December 14, 2013

Survey of psychometricians finds iSteve one of 3 best journalistic outlets in the world for intelligence coverage

Psychologist James Thompson has been in Melbourne attending the annual conference of the International Society for Intelligence Research (ISIR). He writes:
What do intelligence researchers really think about intelligence?
There are many reasons for intelligence researchers to keep their opinions to themselves. Intelligence research raises strong emotions, not all of them positive, and a researcher saying the wrong thing in public can lead to disputes, loss of funding, general harassment and sometimes a loss of job. 
So, when finding out about real opinions, anonymity is required. Rindermann, Coyle and Becker have replicated the last survey on experts done 30 years ago.

That's the big survey done by Stanley Rothman and Mark Snyderman in the 1980s.
Researchers were invited to participate only if they had recent intelligence-related publications in Intelligence, Cognitive Psychology, Biological Psychology, Journal of Mathematical Psychology, Contemporary Educational Psychology, Journal of School-Psychology, New Ideas in Psychology, and Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology. 
Invitations were emailed to 1237 persons and at the end only 228 (18%) participants completed the process (70 fully and 158 partially). As far as the authors could make it out, “lefties” and “righties” turned down the offer in equal numbers, complaining that the questions were not good enough, the selection of experts would not be good or that they did not want to participate in a process which suggested that the truth could be found by majority decisions. In fact, the authors just wanted to find out what expert opinion was, in all its variety, and were not intending to come to any conclusions of a majority sort. (Perhaps climate research has poisoned the academic atmosphere, and no-one wants to be involved with anything which smacks of consensus science). As many pointed out, one good study can smash down an old consensus. 
Experts agreed that the following were sources of reasonable evidence for significant heritability of intelligence: monozygotic twins reared apart, comparisons of monozygotic and dizygotic twins, adoption studies, “patchwork” family studies. 
Asked: Is there sufficient evidence to arrive at a reasonable estimate of the heritability of intelligence in populations of developed countries?” 73% said Yes. 
Asked: What are the sources of U.S. black-white differences in IQ? 
0% of differences due to genes: (17% of our experts)
0-40% of differences due to genes: 42% of our experts
50% of differences due to genes: 18% of our experts
60-100% of differences due to genes: 39% of our experts
100% of differences due to genes: (5% of our experts)
M=47% of differences due to genes (SD=31%) 

Like I always say, "Fifty-Fifty" is a pretty reasonable rule of thumb that won't lead you too far astray. It may not be the most accurate, but it's the best for reminding you to stay balanced: this is a complicated subject.
As far as I can see, there are two extreme positions, the 17% who think that the difference is none of it due to genes, and the 5% who think it is all due to genes. The rest are in the middle, and the “consensus” is that 47% of the difference is due to genes. (See above why one should not get too excited about consensus results). All this is obviously very different from the public narrative, which is that 0% of the difference is due to genes. Such a view is rejected by the majority of experts, but there is still a sizeable minority of experts who hold that view. In sum, there are a variety of opinions. 
Asked: What is the influence of average cognitive ability level and highly cognitive competent persons on positive development of society, the economy, technology, democracy and culture? All of the results were above the mid point, suggesting agreement about a positive relationship between high intelligence and social progress.
Asked about measurement bias: a majority thought that test taker motivation and anxiety were important, the race of the examiner much less so. 
Asked: Is there racial/ethnic content bias in intelligence tests? The mean agreement was 2.13 out of 4. 
Asked whether there was bias against lower SES and Africans in the western world, the mean agreement was about 4 out of 9. 
Only a minority wanted separate norms for minority groups. 
Out of 26 media sources on intelligence, only 3 were rated better than 5 out of 9: 
Steve Sailer 
Anatoly Karlin 
Die Zeit
Experts rated public debates on intelligence as twice as likely to be ideological than scientific. I think it is plain that most experts do not regard the press as being much good at reporting intelligence. Stories of marginal importance tended to be paid too much attention. 
They thought the Flynn Effect was due to educational and other environmental causes. The most important factors for cognitive ability differences between nations were education 21% and genes 15%.

I shot a man in Reno just to hear him whine

From the Associated Press:
A Reno man has been placed on probation and fined $1,000 for shooting a golfer whose errant ball broke a bedroom window at his home. 
Jeff Fleming, 53, was put on probation for up to five years in Washoe County District Court. He had faced as much as 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine after he earlier pleaded guilty to a felony charge of battery with a deadly weapon. 
The unidentified golfer who struck Fleming's house took a drop and was attempting to play his next shot on the Lakeridge Golf Course in September 2012 when Fleming fired a shotgun at him. The golfer, who was playing with a friend, was treated at a hospital for minor injuries to an arm and both legs.
Fleming's attorney, Larry Dunn, said Friday his client was just waking up when the stray golf ball shattered his bedroom window and sprayed him with glass shards. Fleming shot at the golfer from some 50 yards away in an attempt to scare him, not injure him, Dunn said. 
The ball "came crashing through the bedroom window and it startled him, and he thought he was being shot at," Dunn told The Associated Press.  

Stand-up comic Daniel Tosh talks about his underprivileged childhood: he grew up in a house on a public golf course ... on the right side of the fairway.

About three guys in the audience will laugh. Private club golfers tend to be better players, and when better players miss, they tend to hook the ball to the left; but public course hackers tend to slice to the right, so a house on the right side of a public course fairway gets bombarded.

It's kind of funny how tens of billions of dollars of houses and condos were built right alongside fairways from about 1960 to 2000, yet now it just seems like an all-around bad idea.

M.C. Escher's "Library of Babel"

These photos of the old-time Cincinnati main public library that was finally torn down in the 1950s have been going around. The picture above looks like an illustration for Jorge Luis Borges's The Library of Babel if done by M.C. Escher after visiting an exhibition of Piranesi's prisons. It reminds me that while I love vast reading rooms, such as Boston's, I always found going into the stacks at Rice University's big library slightly nightmarish. 

I particularly like the contrast in men's headgear between the polite gentlemen scholars in the Art Room:
and the hat-wearing hoi polloi in the Newspaper Room:
This confirms all my treasured stereotypes from reading Ben Hecht and watching His Girl Friday about the profound link between old time newspapers and wearing your hat indoors. (In case you are wondering, although Magritte's paintings are full of men wearing hats, they only wear them outdoors.)

December 13, 2013

Another triumphant shattering of stereotypes

Via Marginal Revolution, a quote from Machine Gambling in Las Vegas:
While in the past the typical gambling addict had been an older male who bet on sports or cards for ten years before seeking help, now it was a thirty-five-year-old female with two children who had played video for less than two years before seeking help.

Lonely old white men used to hog the gambling addiction, but that stereotype has, finally, been shattered: young mothers are no longer forced to ride in the back of the bus to bankruptcy.

You know, when we stop to think about all the progress America has made toward ensuring that the marginalized get equal access to financial ruin, we shouldn't forget that it's unsung individuals like Donald Trump, Steve Wynn, and Sheldon Adelson who are some of the real heroes.

Twin studies debunked: Twins are "Similar but not identical"

In the UK leftosphere, The Independent strikes back against The Guardian betraying the sacred verities when the Grauniad gave a good write-up to Robert Plomin's giant twin study of heritability in school test scores. From The Independent:
Similar but not identical: study reveals more about twins than about education 
The headlines this week about a new study of genetics told only part of the story 
Genes play a bigger role in educational achievement than teachers, schools or home environment, and the reason we know this – apparently – is because we can compare the performance of thousands of pairs of twins.

At least, this was the main conclusion of a “representative” sample of 11,117 identical and non-identical 16-year-old twins, who were used as the basis for the largest research effort in this country into the role that genes and environment play in a range of traits – from the chances of contracting a lethal disease to aspects of personality. 
By comparing identical twins, who share identical genes, with non-identical twins, who share half their DNA, scientists are able to tease out the differences that result from genetics from those that come from the environment. This, at least, is the idea. But not all experts agree over the importance of twin studies, and indeed some molecular geneticists are extremely hostile to them. Marcus Pembrey, emeritus professor of paediatric genetics at University College London, for instance, believes they are next to useless when it comes to telling us anything significant about the role of genes. 
“In all the years of twin studies I can only think of two occasions when they have produced a meaningful result and I’d be nervous about saying that monozygotic [identical] twins are truly representative of the population. I abandoned my twin studies in 1972,” he said. 
Monozygotic twins are one of nature’s idiosyncrasies. A few days after an egg is fertilised by a sperm the developing embryo splits in two, each sharing the same set of parental genes. 
Non-identical or dizygotic twins occur when two eggs are fertilised by two sperm and the resulting pair of embryos develops within the same womb, sharing the foetal environment but only 50 per cent of their parental genes, just like ordinary siblings. 
... Although identical twins share the same DNA they are frequently different in many ways. One twin can be larger than the other from birth, indicating an unequal environment in the womb, and it is now firmly established that identical twins can be born with very different health prospects. 
John Burn, professor of clinical genetics at Newcastle University, told a London conference on twins this month about the case of a pregnant woman who was an alcoholic. She gave birth to identical twins. One had foetal-alcohol syndrome while the other did not. So even though they shared the same genes and the same foetal environment, the twins were different. “We can’t explain it,” Professor Burn said. 
There is also the case of enantiomorphic or “mirror-image” identical twins. Although physically similar, they show certain features that are mirrors of one another – their hair parts on opposite sides of the head or they suck different thumbs when babies, for example. 
At the same London conference, organised by the charity Progress Educational Trust, a member of the audience said she and her identical twin sister needed to sit or stand on a particular side of the other in order to feel comfortable. This had been the case for as long as she could remember. “Is this because our mother always put us in our cot on the same side?” she asked. 
Professor Burn was unsure, but suggested it might be because she and her sister were enantiomorphic. 
It is increasingly clear that identical twins are not in fact identical. This is even more so when epigenetic factors are considered. These control the way genes are expressed and even though the DNA sequences are the same, the way their genes work are almost certainly different. 
And yet, the principal assumption behind twin studies is that identical twins share the same genes and, largely, the same environment. This is crucial to working out heritability, which is a measure of how much variation in a particular trait is down to genes.

Interesting points, but, correct me if I'm wrong, isn't the logic of this argument against twin studies 180 degrees backward? Don't twin studies work by positing that the difference in degree of phenotypical variation between identical twins and fraternal twins is due to genetics, so by emphasizing all the random non-genetic differences between how similar identical twins turn out, you're saying that twin studies are actually less sensitive to finding the full magnitude of heritability?

I may have this backwards, so don't take my word for it.
Heritability is at the centre of the TwinsUK study run by King’s College London, which for 18 years has built up and followed a cohort of identical and non-identical twins. The latest effort on the GCSE performance of 16-year-olds found, for example, that the heritability of compulsory core subjects was 58 per cent, of English 52 per cent, of mathematics 55 per cent and of science 58 per cent. 
This is why the scientists concluded that genes played a bigger role in a child’s GCSE performance than any other environmental factor. “We suggest a model of education that recognises the important role of genetics,” the researchers said in their study, published in the journal Plos One.
A serious problem with heritability as a metric for measuring anything, however, is that it varies depending on what you are measuring, on which population it is based, and on the time of assessment. Significantly, few politicians seem to understand this limitation. 
The heritability of general intelligence, for instance, rises with age. In infancy, about 20 per cent of a child’s intelligence is attributed to genes, whereas in adults it can be as high as 70 or even 80 per cent, according to Robert Plomin, professor of behavioural genetics at King’s College, who led the twins study into educational achievement.

As a commenter pointed out this, new study should be considered a triumph for nurturists, since it found Shared Environment accounted for 36% of variations in these high-stakes tests at age 16. That's unusually high for a twin study, which typically find that Unshared Environment accounts for most of the non-heritable percentage.

December 12, 2013

Uh oh, Martin Scorsese took my advice

While reading about Martin Scorsese's upcoming movie The Wolf of Wall Street (opening Christmas) with Leonardo DiCaprio playing convicted stock swindler Jordan Belfort, I keep wondering, "Didn't I already see this movie?"

Yes. The 2000 movie Boiler Room was also based on Belfort's pump and dump business. In fact, I blogged a quick review of the movie in 2009 in response to the subprime crash:
So, I rented the 2000 movie. It's well worth seeing, as are so many movies that give you an inside view of some masculine institution.
A movie about the U.S. Marines, for instance, doesn't have to be terribly good to still be entertaining. There's just so much lore the screenwriter can crib. For example, there was a spat over "Jarhead," about a Marine in the First Gulf War, because the author of another memoir about that war pointed out that that a speech a colonel gives welcoming the Marines to the war zone was lifted nearly word for word from his book. Veteran screenwriter William Broyles ("Apollo 13") replied that that, sure, it's the same speech, but it's also the same speech Broyles heard from his colonel when he arrived in Vietnam in 1965. Marines don't let a good speech go to waste.
Similarly, it's fitting that the real life subprime peddlers at Ameriquest all watched "Boiler Room" because the crooked stockbrokers in "Boiler Room" all watch "Glengarry Glen Ross" and "Wall Street." They get together in the evening in one broker's giant empty house and watch "Wall Street" on the big TV and see who can do Michael Douglas's Gordon Gekko lines best.
High pressure salesmen watch movies about high pressure salesmen for pointers. The rest of us could use a refresher in the games they are playing on us. The chief reminder, of course, is that they persuade men to make dumb outlays of money by challenging their manhood.
"Boiler Room" has lots of great lines, although it's a little clunky overall. This is a very young writer-director's first movie (Ben Younger was 27 when it was released) and it shows. 
The casting is a little off. I wonder if somebody told Ben Younger that for his lead, the conflicted college dropout who can't decide whether he wants the money or his soul back, he should get, "You know, what's-his-name, that young guy, the pale one with the really Italian-sounding name," but instead of getting Leonard DiCaprio, he got Giovanni Ribisi instead. (Of course, there are a lot of movies that could have gone from half empty to half full just by DiCaprio in the title role.) 
Ribisi's quite good in the selling scenes, but he never sold me on the idea that he should be a Hollywood leading man -- he's too toad-like and his complexion resembles the singer's in My Bloody Valentine. 
Ben Affleck has the Alec Baldwin in "Glengarry Glen Ross" role as the sales manager who gives motivational speeches. (Here's the Youtube clip of the "group job interview" -- language NSFW.) Affleck is a guy who has shown some talent as a director and screenwriter, and has had enough work done that he looks like a leading man, but he's not really quite good enough of an actor. He's fine here giving motivational soliloquies, but there's fifty guys who could have done them even better. 

On second thought, that might be a little harsh. It's just that in general, you don't want to get into a head to head acting competition with Alec Baldwin.
Vin Diesel plays the one senior broker who is not a total jerk. I like Diesel, and I think he's a rather good actor when he's not talking (his control of his facial muscles is surprisingly delicate). But Diesel has some kind of speech impediment. I'm not sure exactly what it is -- some times it's a lisp, some times something else. But "Boiler Room" is the wrong movie for him: way too talky. 
Here's a Youtube clip of him reeling in a client where his charisma is locked in uneasy conflict with his speech impediment. (The really odd thing about Vin Diesel is how much his facial expressions resemble those of Jerry Seinfeld.) 
With DiCaprio starring, Martin Scorsese directing, and an extra $100,000 of script doctoring, "Boiler Room" would be one helluva movie.

So I left myself an out there -- if Wolf of Wall Street isn't good, it's because they didn't spend quite enough on script doctoring.

The hidden divide in American institutions

It's often noted that American companies and institutions tend to be divided into dynamic new ones (Twitter, Facebook, SnatchChat, The Hunger Games) and sclerotic old ones (General Motors, government agencies). It's less often mentioned that there are policy reasons why this is so. 

The longer an American institution is around, the more costs get piled on to it. For example, under the nearly unique American system of employer-provided health insurance, how much do you think Facebook pays per employee (average age: 28)? How much does General Motors pay (average age: gettin' up there)? It's not too surprising that Facebook's market capitalization is twice GM's. 

(Fortunately, Congress is planning to help poor Mark Zuckerberg out next year with some immigration reform so he won't have to pay so much to greedy American programmers. Without more H-1B visas, Zuckerberg would have to hire some senile old bastards in their 40s, maybe even some of them ... women.)

Similarly, America's War on Racism targets slow-moving institutions. Jesse Jackson has repeatedly been frustrated at getting his hooks into Silicon Valley, with its constant churn. (Now that Silicon Valleyites prefer to live in San Francisco and reverse commute, you can hear old time pols like Willie Brown licking their chops, but in general Silicon Valley remains an elusive target.)

Hollywood movies are too short-lasting for the kind of endless EEOC investigations that bedraggle older companies, so they are almost immune too, which is why so few Latinos work in movie crafts jobs. 

In contrast, municipal fire departments are old, established, and will be around forever, so they are subject to extraordinary amounts of attention over the racial/ethnic stats of their hires and promotions.

Other countries tend to see their giant institutions such as Daimler-Benz as long term investments in the future of their people. Rather than pillage their well-functioning institutions, most intelligent countries try hard to set up sustainable systems. 

In America, however, our current ideology is focused on promoting churn. Lots of individual profit from this, but is it good for Americans as a whole?

Fukuyama's "History of the World: Part II"

Awhile back I reviewed for The American Conservative Francis Fukuyama's intended magnum opus The Origins of Political Order, Volume I, a sort of unfunny History of the World: Part I. He now has a new article in The American Interest, presumably introducing volume II, on "The Decay of American Political Institutions." 

He contrasts unfavorably the judge and lawyer dominated American Constitutional system to the British parliamentary system where legislative and executive power are merged. I'm a patriotic American, but American idolization of the U.S. Constitution is overblown: After 225 years it has clearly proven a niche system in the global marketplace, with the British system being far more popular. 

One reason is that the quality of members of the British parliament tends to be considerably higher than the quality of members of the House. Nineteenth Century Continental visitors to London and Washington DC were enthralled by the superb drama of a "crowded house" while their opinion of Congressmen wasn't all that different from that of Americans today.

By American standards, the British system seems, on paper, strikingly authoritarian -- "the smack of firm government" as PM Harold MacMillan promised -- with few checks and balances. To Fukuyama, a national security intellectual in the tradition of his mentor Samuel Huntington, but without Huntington's deep intellectual (and genealogical) devotion to the historic American people, that's a feature not a bug. The parliamentary system designed to Get Things Done is inherently more attractive to Fukuyama than the U.S. system designed to Check and Balance.

For example, the concept of federalism barely exists in England. If you can assemble a majority in parliament, you can tromp all over local government structures. For example, Margaret Thatcher got tired of being criticized by the leftist mayor of London so she abolished the job of mayor of London. In the tradition of Airstrip One, Edward Heath junked many of the ancient counties of England and replaced them with new local units his boys thought more efficient. 

Now, the British have a culture where a lot of things are just not done, so this authoritarian aspect of their unwritten constitution isn't that apparent in practice. But still ...

On the other hand, it's not real clear how important these differences are. Fukuyama endorses the analysis of political economist Mancur Olson:
The late Mancur Olson emphasized the malign effects of interest group politics on economic growth and, ultimately, democracy in his 1982 book The Rise and Decline of Nations. Looking particularly at the long-term economic decline of Britain throughout the 20th century, he argued that democracies in times of peace and stability tend to accumulate ever-increasing numbers of interest groups that, instead of pursuing wealth-creating economic activities, make use of the political system to extract benefits, or rents, for themselves.

But Olson's example of the economic decline of Britain in the 1970s (and its subsequent revival) parallels the American experience at the same time, suggesting that structures perhaps matter less than ideas.

Here's an interesting passage:
One of the great turning points in 20th-century American history was the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision ... 
So familiar is this heroic narrative to Americans that they seldom realize how peculiar it is. The primary mover in the Brown case was the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), a private voluntary association. The initiative had to come from private groups, of course, because state governments in the South were controlled by pro-segregation forces. The NAACP pressed the case on appeal all the way to the Supreme Court. What was arguably one of the most important changes in American public policy thus came about not because Congress, as the representative of the American people, voted for it but because private individuals litigated through the court system to change the rules.

(This example is more ambiguous than it sounds. Separate schools systems actually survived largely intact in much of the South for another 15 years, only being ended by the newly elected Nixon Administration, and that partially under the prodding of the courts. A decade and a half of rapid suburbanization between 1954 and 1969 gave many white parents a geographic buffer so desegregation wasn't as much of a shock as it would have been if the Warren Court had ordered instant desegregation in 1954. In 1968 Nixon carried Southern suburban precincts where modern corporate-oriented voters wanted to put all that Jim Crow stuff far behind them -- while Wallace carried white small town voters where distance wasn't an option, and Humphrey carried upland Southern districts with few blacks -- so the 1969 desegregation didn't hit Nixon voters too hard.)
Later developments, like the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, were the result of congressional action, but even in these cases enforcement was carried out by courts at the behest of private parties. 
No other liberal democracy proceeds in this fashion. All European countries have gone through similar changes to the legal status of racial and ethnic minorities, and women and gays in the second half of the 20th century. But in Britain, France or Germany, the same results have been achieved through a national justice ministry acting on behalf of a parliamentary majority. The legislative rule changes might well have been driven by public pressure, but they would have been carried out by the government itself, not by private parties acting in conjunction with the judiciary.

Actually, Fukuyama is overlooking the distinction between disparate treatment discrimination and disparate impact discrimination. Most other countries don't worry all that much about disparate impact, or at least haven't until decades after the Supreme Court's 1972 Griggs decision. Canada, for example, doesn't have affirmative action in college admissions. The last time I checked a couple of years ago, Oxford and Cambridge didn't have quotas and the failures of West Indian and Pakistani applicants were more or less a matter of indifference to them.

Brazil finally started collegiate affirmative action only about a decade ago. European countries seem more likely to have quotas for women (e.g., on Boards of Directors) than for ethnic minorities. This may slowly be starting to change under the sheer weight of demographic change and the American example. After the 2005 Car-Be-Ques outside Paris, Sarkozy talked about starting quotas for Muslims, for instance.

But, in general, Fukuyama's breezy assurance that "the same results have been achieved through a national justice ministry acting on behalf of a parliamentary majority" is quite misleading. He simply has a hard time keeping in his head the disparate treatment v. disparate impact distinction, which is hardly surprising. It's not something you are encouraged to think a lot about in modern America if you want a career as glittering as Fukuyama's.
The origins of the American approach lie in the historical sequence by which its three sets of institutions evolved. In France, Denmark and Germany, law came first, followed by a modern state, and only later by democracy. The pattern of development in the United States, by contrast, was one in which the tradition of English Common Law was embedded early on in the Thirteen Colonies, followed by democracy after independence, and only later by development of a modern state. Indeed, some have argued that the American state is Tudor in its basic structure, that arrangement having been frozen into its institutions at the time of the original American settlement.2 Whatever the reasons, the American state has always been weaker and less capable than its European or Asian counterparts. And note that distrust of government is not a conservative monopoly; many on the Left worry about the capture of national institutions by powerful corporate interests and prefer to achieve their desired policy outcomes by means of grassroots activism via the courts.  
The result in post-civil rights movement America is what the legal scholar Robert A. Kagan labels a system of “adversarial legalism.” While lawyers have always played an outsized role in American public life, their role expanded dramatically during the turbulent years of social change in the 1960s and 1970s. ... 
What makes this system so unwieldy is not the level of regulation as such, but the highly legalistic way in which it is pursued. ... 
For example, Federal courts rewrote Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, “turning a weak law focusing primarily on intentional discrimination into a bold mandate to compensate for past discrimination.” Instead of providing a Federal bureaucracy with adequate enforcement power, “the key move of Republicans in the Senate . . . was to substantially privatize the prosecutorial function. They made private lawsuits the dominant mode of Title VII enforcement, creating an engine that would, in the years to come, produce levels of private enforcement litigation beyond their imagining.”3 Across the board, private enforcement cases grew from fewer than a hundred per year in the late 1960s to more than 22,000 by the late 1990s. Expenditures on lawyers increased six-fold during the same period. Not only did the direct costs of litigation soar; other, more indirect costs mounted due to the increasing slowness of the process and uncertainties as to outcomes.  
Thus, conflicts that in Sweden or Japan would be solved through quiet consultations between interested parties through the bureaucracy are fought out through formal litigation in the American court system.

Well, the Japanese bureaucracy does indeed have a quiet system for solving discrimination: it doesn't let minorities who might be discriminated against into the country.
This has several unfortunate consequences for public administration, among them “uncertainty, procedural complexity, redundancy, lack of finality, [and] high transaction costs.”

For example, nobody has much of a clue how much America's War on Discrimination costs in terms of employee efficiency. There are multiple layers of obfuscation built into the system.
By estranging enforcement from the bureaucracy, the system also becomes far less accountable. In a European parliamentary system, a new rule or regulation promulgated by a bureaucracy is subject to scrutiny and debate, and can be changed through political action at the next election. In the United States, by contrast, policy is made piecemeal in a highly specialized and therefore non-transparent process by judges who are unelected and usually serve with lifetime tenure.

True ... but, let's consider Fukuyama's fundamental example of discrimination law. Enforcement has hardly been wholly privatized. The federal government has large staffs at the EEOC and the Department of Justice suing Americans (e.g., the Fire Department of New York case), often hand-in-glove with private interests or with political allies in local government. The fundamental problem with discrimination law in America is less the structure is suboptimal (although it is), but that a vast intellectual No Fly Zone has been erected over the area, with key facts relevant to policy making -- e.g., racial differences in average performance -- relegated to an epistemic purgatory the contents of which only Bad People know about. 

Here's a good example of this ever-encroaching ignorance right from Fukuyama's article:

Dr. Fukuyama repeatedly emphasizes, with good reason, the importance of the civil service reform of 1883 that ended the federal patronage system. He mentions "civil service examinations" as a basic tool of modern good government. After all, civil service examinations are a backbone of the kind of efficient, effective, and strong government that Dr. Fukuyama prefers. Part of having a competent Executive branch, as Fukuyama wants, is hiring competent Executive branch employees.

Strikingly, Fukuyama doesn't seem to be aware, however, that the Carter Administration junked the new and extensively validated federal civil service examination in early January 1981 in the Luevano discrimination lawsuit on the grounds that it had disparate impact on Hispanics and blacks. The Administration promised a new civil service examination on which non-Asian minorities wouldn't score lower while still accurately predicting who would be good hires. But it's been 32 years and somehow one has not yet been developed. 

Thus, according to the FAQ on
"Civil Service Exam -- There is no longer a single civil service exam to cover all government jobs. In addition, many jobs with the federal government no longer require written tests."

To middle aged guys like Fukuyama and me, the existence of a federal civil service exam sounds like a given -- I mean, why wouldn't they have one? But the younger generation can't remember it. And almost nobody remembers when or why it disappeared. For example, I'd never heard the story until 2007.

Much evidence suggests that poorer hiring methods of federal bureaucrats have since led to poorer bureaucratic performance. Thus, a fair amount of the ability of the federal bureaucracy to get things done quickly and effectively has been sacrificed on the altar of disparate impact.

I bring this example up to suggest that 21st Century America has more fundamental problems besetting effective governance than just those mentioned by Dr. F.

A simple question is: What would disparate impact law look like in the U.S. under a parliamentary supremacy system favored by Fukuyama? Presumably, it would be simpler, but what would it be? How would it deal with the brute fact of disparate achievement? At this point, pundits usually retreat to "All we have to do is fix the schools" and similar inanities.

So, while I'm sympathetic to Fukuyama's critique of the sacred cow status of the Constitution in American thought, it's seems -- just from his own examples -- that a larger and much faster growing problem is the sacred cow status of the concept of diversity.

December 11, 2013

New twin study by Plomin, Shakeshaft et al

From PLOS one, a big new British study of school test scores of 5,474 pairs of twins. (This is not a study of twins raised apart, however.)
Strong Genetic Influence on a UK Nationwide Test of Educational Achievement at the End of Compulsory Education at Age 16 
Nicholas G. Shakeshaft, Maciej Trzaskowski, Andrew McMillan, Kaili Rimfeld, Eva Krapohl, Claire M. A. Haworth, Philip S. Dale, Robert Plomin 
Published: December 11, 2013
We have previously shown that individual differences in educational achievement are highly heritable in the early and middle school years in the UK. The objective of the present study was to investigate whether similarly high heritability is found at the end of compulsory education (age 16) for the UK-wide examination, called the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE). In a national twin sample of 11,117 16-year-olds, heritability was substantial for overall GCSE performance for compulsory core subjects (58%) as well as for each of them individually: English (52%), mathematics (55%) and science (58%). In contrast, the overall effects of shared environment, which includes all family and school influences shared by members of twin pairs growing up in the same family and attending the same school, accounts for about 36% of the variance of mean GCSE scores. The significance of these findings is that individual differences in educational achievement at the end of compulsory education are not primarily an index of the quality of teachers or schools: much more of the variance of GCSE scores can be attributed to genetics than to school or family environment. We suggest a model of education that recognizes the important role of genetics. Rather than a passive model of schooling as instruction (instruere, ‘to build in’), we propose an active model of education (educare, ‘to bring out’) in which children create their own educational experiences in part on the basis of their genetic propensities, which supports the trend towards personalized learning.

Here's the impressive sample:
Twins in the Twins Early Development Study (TEDS) were recruited from birth records of twins born in England and Wales between 1994 and 1996 [13]. Their recruitment and representativeness have been described previously [14]. Children with severe medical problems or whose mothers had severe medical problems during pregnancy were excluded from the analyses. We also excluded children with uncertain or unknown zygosity, and those whose first language was not English. Zygosity was assessed through a parent questionnaire of physical similarity, which has been shown to be over 95% accurate when compared to DNA testing [15]. For cases where zygosity was unclear from this questionnaire, DNA testing was conducted. After exclusions, the total number of individuals for whom GCSE data were obtained at age 16 was 11,117, including 5,474 pairs with data for both co-twins: 2,008 pairs of monozygotic (MZ) twins, 1,730 pairs of same-sex dizygotic (DZ) twins, and 1,736 pairs of opposite-sex DZ twins.

Along these lines, my wife's identical twin nephews recently participated in a sizable twin study in Chicago. The experiments they underwent sounded much like the twin research in Robert Heinlein's novel Time for the Stars, except it didn't turn out that they could communicate telepathically at faster-than-light speeds, which would be a useful skill for interstellar colonization.

GCSE are high stakes tests:
The UK nationwide examination for educational achievement at the end of compulsory education is called the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE). English, mathematics and science (the latter comprising physics, chemistry and biology, and taught either as a single- or double-weighted course, or as separate courses for each science) are compulsory. Many schools also require English literature and one or more modern foreign languages, among other subjects. GCSEs are typically available in a diverse range of other subjects, including history, geography, information and communications technology (ICT), music, and physical education (PE). Courses usually begin at age 14 (with some slight variations by school and subject), with exams typically being taken at age 16. There is no mandatory number of GCSEs, but students commonly take between 8–10 subjects, and receiving five or more at grades A*–C is typically a requirement for going on to further education. 
Shortly after the completion of their GCSEs, each TEDS family was sent results forms by mail, (followed as necessary by telephone reminders). The forms were completed by the twins' parents, and also included results for qualifications other than GCSEs (e.g., ‘Entry Level Certificates’, designed to fall just below GCSE level), which were not analysed in the present study. In order to permit comparable numerical coding across different qualification types, GCSE results were coded from 11 (A*, the highest grade) to 4 (G, the lowest grade). For all analyses, outliers beyond three standard deviations from the mean were removed.

Results include:
Table 2 includes rough estimates of heritability based on doubling the differences between the MZ and DZ correlations. The average heritability estimate is 53% across the GCSE scores and composites, similar to the mean GCSE score heritability estimate of 52%. Shared environmental influence, estimated as the difference between the MZ correlation and heritability, is 29% on average across the GCSE scores and 36% for the mean GCSE score. A remarkable finding is that the estimates of heritability and shared environmental influence do not differ substantially across diverse subjects. The humanities subjects have the lowest estimate (40%), and science subjects the highest (60%).

The twin correlations are suggestive of sex differences. Looking at the intraclass correlations for the five sex and zygosity twin groups, quantitative sex differences are apparent across most subjects, in that heritabilities are somewhat greater for boys than for girls and shared environmental influences are greater for girls than for boys ... 57% vs. 47%, respectively, for the overall mean GCSE grade ...
Our results indicate that individual differences in educational achievement are just as strong at the end of compulsory education at age 16 as they are in the earlier school years. Heritability is substantial not only for the core subjects of English (52%), mathematics (55%) and science (58%), but also for the (usually optional) humanities subjects in our dataset (42%). We discuss below the implications of finding that GCSE scores are highly heritable.

Also important is the finding that shared environment accounts for much less variance than does genetics. On average, genetics accounts for almost twice as much of the variance of GCSE scores (53%) as does shared environment (30%), even though shared environmental influences include all family, neighbourhood, and school influences that are shared by members of twin pairs growing up together and attending the same school. In addition, estimates of shared environment are also similar across subjects: English (31%), mathematics (26%), science (24%), and the humanities (32%).

Quantitative sex differences emerged for most subjects, with heritability generally greater for boys and shared environmental influence greater for girls (see Table S4 in File S1). Despite the small effect sizes, it is interesting to speculate about how such a pattern of results could occur; for example, girls might be more susceptible to the shared environmental influences of schools or peers. However, we prefer merely to note these significant sex differences in our sample and to defer speculation about their origins until these results are replicated, for reasons discussed later. ...
Limitations of the present study include general limitations of the twin method, most notably the equal environments assumption – that environmentally-caused similarity is equal for MZ and DZ twins – and the assumption that results for twins generalize to non-twin populations [16]. The equal environments assumption has survived several tests of its validity, but the most persuasive evidence is that similar results are found using two other methods with different assumptions: the adoption method and a quantitative genetic method based on DNA alone [28],[29]. In terms of the generalization from twin to non-twin samples, GCSE scores for twins and non-twin siblings have been shown to be very similar in means and variances [12]. 

Has anybody ever done a study of how much being identical twins raised together makes you more dissimilar? For example, in one pair of male identical twins I know, both have catalogued the minutest differences between themselves and each therefore designs quite different hobbies and ambitions for himself to avoid coming out in second place. In other words,  due to their competitiveness these two may be more different because they were raised together than if they were raised apart. I suspect some twins may be the opposite, with both conforming to the other. There may be a sex difference, with boy identical twins slightly more inclined toward sibling rivalry v. girl identical twins leaning toward sibling revelry.

A reader suggest the Winkelvoss twins of Facebook and Bitcoin fame (both played by Armie Hammer in The Social Network) as leaning toward sibling revelry (even though they are extremely competitive against the rest of the world in rowing, business, and litigation). Shelby Steele and Claude Steele might be examples of ideological sibling rivalry.

Success in science: It's not totally a zero-sum game of identity politics, you know?

Here's a Stanford U. press release from 2009 that somehow strikes me as relevant to the current editorial in the New York Times about how white males are hogging all the science education, and to the subsequent debate over whether the only reason women seem to prefer biology and the other life sciences to physics and the other death sciences ("Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds" -- J. Robert Oppenheimer, July 16, 1945) is because of malign social forces:
Stanford cancer expert Ronald Levy receives King Faisal Prize in Medicine 
STANFORD, Calif. — The development of a drug that has revolutionized the treatment of many types of cancer has earned its inventor, Ronald Levy, MD, the 2009 King Faisal International Prize in Medicine. 
More than 30 years ago, Levy, now chief of the oncology division at the Stanford University School of Medicine, embarked on a research agenda that harnessed the power of the body’s own immune system to fight cancer. Levy developed the concept that a drug made from a naturally produced blood protein called an antibody could be a cancer-fighting machine.
On March 29, Levy, who holds the Robert K. and Helen K. Summy Professorship at Stanford, will be honored for this seminal discovery by Saudi Arabian royalty, who will present Levy with his most prestigious international award to date. 
Rituxan, the drug that resulted from Levy’s work, was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1997, making it the first commercial antibody to treat cancer. “Now it’s recommended for treating almost every lymphoma patient, and over 1 million people have been treated with it so far,” he said. 

I was the first patient in the United States with my precise version of lymphoma to be treated with Dr. Levy's Rituxan in 1997.
According to Levy, when combined with other drugs and radiotherapy, Rituxan is successful at reducing tumor size in most patients who are treated. Originally developed for the treatment of lymphoma, a cancer of the immune system, this class of drug is now part of the standard treatment for a wide range of cancers, including cancer of the breast, colon and lungs. “Monoclonal antibodies have transformed the way cancer is treated,” said Levy, who is a member of the Stanford Cancer Center.

The Saudi royal family seems to have a more sophisticated understanding of the positive-sum benefits of meritocratic competition in science than does the New York Times Editorial Board.

The Guardian: "Genetics accounts for more than half of variation in exam results"

From The Guardian:
Genetics accounts for more than half of variation in exam results 
Environment, including home and school life, is a less important factor in pupils' GCSE results than genes, study suggests 
Differences in children's exam results at secondary school owe more to genetics than teachers, schools or the family environment, according to a study published yesterday. 
The research drew on the exam scores of more than 11,000 16-year-olds who sat GCSEs at the end of their secondary school education. In the compulsory core subjects of English, maths and science, genetics accounted for on average 58% of the differences in scores that children achieved. 
Grades in the sciences, such as physics, biology and chemistry, were more heritable than those in humanities subjects, such as art and music, at 58% and 42% respectively.

(58% + 42%) / 2 = 50%

Back when I got seriously interested in the human sciences, I developed a personal rule of thumb that nature and nurture tend to come out about fifty-fifty in importance. The heredity glass and the environment glass are generally both about half full and half empty.

Only wild-eyed extremists like me think that way, however.

Responsible moderates know that the nurture glass must be 100% full, and that anybody who points out that all the evidence suggests reality is more complicated must some kind of Nazi who is anti-Science.
The findings do not mean that children's performance at school is determined by their genes, or that schools and the child's environment have no influence. The overall effect of a child's environment – including their home and school life – accounted for 36% of the variation seen in students' exam scores across all subjects, the study found.

And there is considerable restriction of range in environment. This British dataset probably doesn't include many environments like Romanian orphanages or Dalit compounds on the Ganges.
"The question we are asking is why do children differ in their GCSE scores? People immediately think it's schools. But if schools accounted for all the variance, then children in one classroom would all be the same," said Robert Plomin, an expert in behavioural genetics who led the study at King's College London. 
To tease out the genetic contribution to children's school grades, the researchers studied GCSE scores of identical twins (who share 100% of their genes) and non-identical twins (who share on average half of the genes that normally vary between people). Both groups share their environments to a similar extent. 
Comparing the twins' exam scores allowed the scientists to work out how much of the variation was down to genetics, and how much to environment. For example, when identical twins get different GCSE scores, the cause cannot be genetic, so it must be what scientists call "non-shared environment" effects – such as the better student having a better teacher. 
A child's performance is influenced, but not set, by their DNA. While one child may excel, their identical twin may not. But taking an average over the population studied, around half of the variation in GCSE scores was due to genetics, Plomin found. Details of the study appear in the journal, Plos One. 
Writing in the journal, the authors point out that genetics emerges as such a strong influence on exam scores because the schooling system aims to give all children the same education. The more school and other factors are made equal, the more genetic differences come to the fore in children's performance. The same situation would happen if everyone had a healthy diet: differences in bodyweight would be more down to genetic variation, instead of being dominated by lifestyle. 
Plomin said one message from the study was that differences in children's performance were not merely down to effort. "Some children find it easier to learn than others do, and I think it's appetite as much as aptitude," he said. 
"There is a motivation, maybe because you like to do what you are good at." 
Genetics, he said, caused people to create, select and modify their environment, and so nature drives nurture, which in turn reinforces nature. A child with a gift for maths seeks friends who like maths. A child who learns to read easily might join a book club, and work through books on the shelves at home. 
Michael Reiss, professor of science education at the Institute of Education in London, said that while genetics undoubtedly plays a role in educational performance, the information might not be very useful. "Some people have to wear glasses because of genetic defects, and other people wear them for reasons that have nothing to do with genetics. As long as you are wearing glasses in school, it doesn't matter at all. The genetics is utterly irrelevant," he said.

But not for being a major league baseball hitter, apparently.
In the past 10 years, programmes have been developed that help children who have fallen behind with their reading to catch up. The programme does not rely on genetics, but focuses on the particular problems the children have in reading. "It doesn't matter if you're teaching maths, rowing or the trombone. A good teacher is very sensitive to the individual needs of the learner, and I don't think the genetics is going to help very much with that," Reiss said. 
Plomin said that educational performance could be affected by thousands of genes, each of which has a minuscule effect. Finding them will be tough, but would allow scientists to work out which gene variants affect performance in different subject areas. 
That might produce problems of its own though. "The worry is that parents, teachers and children themselves start thinking 'It's not worth my while trying, I don't have the genes for it', but that's false logic. The big problem is equating genetics with determinism. It's a very powerful [misconception] and difficult to shift," said Reiss. 
Plomin believes that education might be improved by enlarging schools so they have enough resources to offer children a greater range of subjects and activities, so each can find out what they are good at.

That was pretty much the conclusion of post-Sputnik reassessment of American education: we need giant consolidated high schools for tracking purposes (which also have really good football teams)! And then, after awhile, there was a new fad for "small learning academies," which Bill Gates sank $2 billion into, before declaring it all wasted.
"Education is still focused on a one-size-fits-all approach and if genetics tells us anything it's that children are different in how easily they learn and what they like to learn. Forcing them into this one academic approach is going to make some children confront failure a lot and it doesn't seem a wise approach. It ought to be more personalised," he said. 
"These things are as heritable as anything in behaviour, and yet when you look in education or in educational textbooks for teachers there is nothing on genetics. It cannot be right that there's this complete disconnect between what we know and what we do."

Seventeen years later

From the NYT:
Are Women Just ‘Choosing’ Not to Pursue Science Careers? 
By Vikas Bajaj 
The second editorial in our series about science and math education, which focuses on women and minorities, has sparked an impassioned debate among online commenters about the career choices women, and to a lesser extent minorities, make. 
Some readers argued that we are seeing a problem where there is none. If girls are choosing not to pursue computer science or engineering careers, that simply means they are not interested in those fields and may never be no matter how much effort is put into removing gender bias and stereotypes. But other commenters — many of them women — made a forceful case that parents, teachers and employers are pushing girls away from these professions.

When I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphatic cancer in December 1996, I noticed that a substantial percentage of the doctors, researchers, and assistants working hard to save my life were women. Whether this was because society malevolently "steers" women away from mechanical engineering and into the life sciences, or whether females tend to prefer fields with living rather than inert subject matters is an interesting conundrum to debate.

But, 17 years later, I just want to say to all the people of both sexes in the life sciences who are the reason I'm still here: 

Thank you.

NYT: Ash blond and pimply redhead boys hogging all the STEM education

Missing From Science Class 
Too Few Girls and Minorities Study Tech Subjects 
Published: December 10, 2013 
A big reason America is falling behind other countries in science and math is that we have effectively written off a huge chunk of our population as uninterested in those fields or incapable of succeeding in them. 
Women make up nearly half the work force but have just 26 percent of science, technology, engineering or math jobs, according to the Census Bureau. Blacks make up 11 percent of the workforce but just 6 percent of such jobs and Hispanics make up nearly 15 percent of the work force but hold 7 percent of those positions. There is no question that women and minorities have made progress in science and math in the last several decades, but their gains have been slow and halting. And in the fast-growing field of computer science, women’s representation has actually declined in the last 20 years, while minorities have made relatively small gains. 
These jobs come with above-average pay and offer workers a wide choice of professions. Opening them to women and minorities would help reduce corrosive income inequality between whites and other groups, and would narrow the gender gap in wages. 

I for one welcome our new post-national globalist overlords

Matthew Yglesias passes on a rumor in Slate:
Stanley Fischer Likely to Be Tapped as Fed Vice Chair 
According to John Hilsenrath, "according to a person familiar with the matter," Barack Obama is poised to nominate Stanley Fischer to be vice chairman of the Federal Reserve. 
This is a bit of a surprising development if only because Fischer didn't seem to be seriously considered as a contender for the top Fed job. I figured that was either because Fischer wasn't interested in a government job or because the White House deemed him insufficiently American. If either of those were the case, it would seem to disqualify him for the vice chairmanship too. But he's extraordinarily well-qualified, a distinguished academic economist (Ben Bernanke's mentor) who also served as chief economist at the IMF and as president of the Bank of Israel. As Janet Yellen is already poised to be the best-qualified Fed chair in history, the duo would represent a significant upping of the ante in terms of the idea that the institution should be stewarded by real central banking professionals. 
Fischer himself is an interesting guy (read Dylan Matthews' profile from February), born in a town in what was Northern Rhodesia at the time but is now known as Zambia. When he was 13, his family moved to Southern Rhodesia, which at the time was run as a kind of apartheid rogue state. Then he went to the London School of Economics, then MIT for graduate school. He stayed in American academia throughout the 1970s and 1980s, then worked at the World Bank and the IMF through most of the 1990s. He's essentially a native of countries that don't exist anymore, and as he's Jewish he obtained insta-citizenship in Israel when in 2005 he was asked to run its central bank. But he's also an American citizen. 

With all the talk about Nelson Mandela lately, I only just this week started to develop a nuanced understanding of the demographics of the White Male Power Structures during the first half of the 20th Century in South Africa and Rhodesia.

December 10, 2013

NYT: William Bratton is awesome

The upcoming NYC top cop, the effective William Bratton, is being welcomed with hosannas by the New York Times as a supposed civil rights superhero. In the article and op-ed there is no mention of that interview, but plenty of misleading allusions to how Bratton cleaned up the LAPD's white racist Rampart Scandal.
Bratton’s Time in California May Offer Clues to His Plans for New York Police
Published: December 6, 2013 
... When he was appointed here in 2002, Mr. Bratton took the reins of a department that was mired in scandal and was seen as openly hostile to black and Latino residents. Just a decade before, deadly riots broke out after the acquittal of police officers who beat Rodney G. King, a black driver who had been pulled over for speeding. A few years later, pervasive misconduct and corruption were uncovered in the Rampart Division, with dozens of officers implicated in allegations involving framing suspects and the use of false evidence, as well as stealing and dealing drugs.

And today:
Hail to the Police Chief 
William J. Bratton’s Record Bodes Well for New York 
Published: December 10, 2013 Comment 
LOS ANGELES — WHEN I first met Bill Bratton, at a Christmas party in Los Angeles in 2002, I told him that it was nothing personal but I would soon be suing him, just as I had sued several Los Angeles police chiefs before him. That was my job as a civil rights lawyer, and at that time, we had a rogue police force that refused civilian control, rejected court orders, abused people of color and acted with terrifying impunity. 
It was three months since William J. Bratton had been hired to fix the disgraced Los Angeles Police Department after a disastrous decade that had started with the beating of Rodney G. King, setting off the deadliest race riot in recent American history, and ended with revelations about a gangster-cop ring that had planted evidence, stolen drugs and attempted murder. The L.A.P.D. looked to many more like the Mafia than the police, more stop-and-shoot than stop-and-frisk.

In reality, the central rogue cops in the late 1990s Ramparts scandal were all diversity hires like Rafael Perez (the basis for Oscar winner Denzel Washington's character in Training Day) and Kevin Gaines (the basis for the black cop with $300,000 in his trunk who is shot by the white cop in Oscar winner Crash). 

It's a little weird that Hollywood screenwriters have a more careful regard for the truth in this case than the newspapers. It's like a modern Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

So, what's going on? Well, the New York Times basically wants Bratton to kick ass on the streets. They don't want street crime and they don't want the new Democratic mayor to get in trouble over street crime. So, everybody pretends that Bratton is the man who cleaned out all those white racists in the Ramparts Scandal. 

New York is special.

Sailer: "Corruption of Blood"

From my column in Taki's Magazine:
One of the more striking evolutions of recent decades has been the stealth revival of the ancient concept of hereditary guilt. It’s seldom called that—terms such as “white privilege” and “structural racism” are more popular—but if you’ve been paying attention you’ll note an increasing reversion to this old assumption that the sins of the fathers demand that punishment be visited upon their distant descendants. ... 
Going back at least to the time of the poor Neanderthals, we all tend to be descended more from history’s winners than losers, so none of us should assume the purity of our ancestors’ and relatives’ morals. At minimum, fear of reciprocation should restrain our urge to denounce our contemporary rivals for corruption of blood.

Read the whole thing there.

Schaeffer's Number: Health care costs $12 per hour worked

To put the question of minimum wages into a larger perspective, recall Peter Schaefer's jaw-dropping calculation that if you take the total cost of medical care in the United States and divide it by the total number of hours worked in the United States, it comes out to $12 per hour. Logical implications include:

- Wow. That's a really big number.
- We need to restrain the cost of health care.
- Yes but not everybody is that expensive.
- But, still ...

More broadly, Schaeffer's Number demonstrates the High Cost of Cheap Labor. 

An obvious distinction should be drawn between:

- low wage employers providing work for not very productive American citizens, which is largely a good; versus

- low wage employers drawing in large numbers of not very productive foreigners, which is largely a bad.

Unfortunately, the latter (e.g., large growers) tend to have their voices better represented in Congress and the media ("Crops Rotting in the Fields!") than the former.

$12 per hour minimum wage?

Ron Unz writes in the NYT:
Raise the Minimum Wage to $12 an Hour

Ron Unz, a software developer and publisher of The Unz Review, is the chairman of the Higher Wages Alliance, which is sponsoring a California ballot initiative next year to raise the state minimum wage to $12 per hour. 
DECEMBER 4, 2013 
Tens of millions of low-wage workers in the United States are trapped in lives of poverty. Many suggestions have been put forth to improve their difficult situation, ranging from new social welfare programs to enhanced adult education to greater unionization. But I think the easiest solution is also the simplest: just raise their wages.  
The current federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour and hiking it to $12 would solve many of our economic problems at a single stroke. 
A $12 minimum wage is hardly extreme or ridiculous. At the 1968 height of our post-war economic prosperity, the American minimum wage was over$10.50 in current dollars, and setting the rate at $12 today would represent a real rise of merely 11 percent over a 45-year period, which seems reasonable since worker productivity has grown by over 115 percent during the same period. 
The minimum wage in France is almost $13 while Australian workers benefit from an hourly minimum wage of around $15, together withunemployment of just 5.7 percent.  
Walmart is America’s largest private employer and 300,000 of its workers haveaverage wages of just $8.75 per hour, forcing many of them to receive food stamps and other government welfare benefits to survive. But if a minimum wage hike boosted their pay to at least $12 per hour, Walmart could cover the costs by a one-time price rise of just 1.1 percent, and the average Walmart shopper would only pay an extra $12.50 per year. Meanwhile, a $12 minimum wage would increase the incomes of America’s lower-wage work force by a total of over $150 billion each year, shifting those huge sums from the pockets of the sort of people who don’t shop at Walmart to those who do. A minimum wage of $12 per hour would be very good for Walmart’s business.  
And not just Walmart. America’s low-wage families tend to spend every dollar they earn, so a large minimum wage hike would constitute an enormous, permanent economic stimulus package, but one funded entirely by the private sector. Since wages would be rising nationwide, businesses could raise their prices to cover much or most of the added costs. Low-wage workers tend to be employed in the non-tradeable service sector, making their jobs relatively safe from foreign competition or automation. They’d keep their jobs, but their incomes would rise by 30 or 40 percent.  
The impact on U.S. households would be enormous and bipartisan. Some 42 percent of American wage-workers would benefit from a $12 minimum wage and their average annual gain would be $5,000 per worker, $10,000 per couple, which is very serious money for a working-poor family. White Southerners are the base of today’s Republican Party, and 40 percent of them would gain, seeing their annual incomes rise by an average $4,500 per worker. If Rush Limbaugh -- who earns over $70 million per year -- denounced the proposal, they’d stop listening to him. Hispanics would gain the most, with 55 percent of their wage-workers getting a big raise and the benefits probably touching the vast majority of Latino families.  
Ordinary taxpayers would be the other great beneficiaries, saving many tens of billions of dollars each year in payments for Food Stamps, the Earned Income Tax Credit, housing subsidies, and other social welfare programs. Businesses should pay their own employees rather than quietly shifting the burden to government programs and the American taxpayer. Conservatives and free-market supporters should endorse this simple idea.  
The best way to help low-wage workers is to raise their wages.

About a dozen years ago, I started writing an article about why a proposal to raise the minimum wage for workers in Santa Monica's beachfront hotels to something like $10.50 was, logically, a terrible idea. As an old Econ Major, if there was one thing I knew it's that the Minimum Wage is Bad. 

But I eventually gave up the project because it started to seem like a pretty good idea. Maids' wages make up a small fraction of the cost of staying on the beach in Santa Monica (much more of the cost of a room is the cost of the land it's on), so it seemed improbable that this law would turn Ocean Blvd. into Desolation Alley with tumbleweeds blowing past shuttered resorts and starving, weeping unemployable ex-workers.

This is not to say that the traditional Econ 101 critique of minimum wage laws is completely wrong. Raising the minimum wage to $100 per hour would destroy the above-ground economy. 

What about the converse? It might even be true that cutting the minimum wage to $3 per hour would increase employment. But if so, would then cutting it from $3 to $2 be another slam dunk great idea? From $2 to $1? I don't think so. Diminishing marginal returns set in pretty rapidly.

So, there's a range of plausible minimum wages at which it's not an obviously a bad idea. The delicate part is finding where you can push the envelope without blowing a hole in it. 

One way to accomplish that is regionality. High "living wage" minimums in California coastal paradises have worked fine, but that doesn't mean the same number wouldn't cause high unemployment in rural Mississippi. Ron's initiative push for a $12 minimum for all of California sounds pretty sensible for such an expensive state, but could cause big trouble if Congress extended it to low cost of living Oklahoma.

A half century ago, debates over the minimum wage in Congress tended to break down along regional lines. Northern industrial states wanted high national minimum wages to discourage factories from relocating to low wage Southern states. 

So a minimum wage works as an internal protectionist measure. My views on protectionism are moderate. I am sympathetic to movement of jobs to cheaper locations in the United States, but I am also sympathetic to some degree of stability and restraint. Statesmanship consists of finding mechanisms that accommodate those contrary goals efficiently. (My views on outsourcing / insourcing across our national border are similarly moderate, which is why I'm considered such an extremist.)

Another issue is how a higher minimum wage would interact with Obamacare's employer mandates. The term "Double Whammy" springs to mind.

A few other thoughts:

Why not a $15 per hour minimum for non-citizens?

Why not a $6 per hour minimum for teenage citizens? And a $9 per hour minimum for 20 to 22 year old citizens?

A high minimum would only seem to work when tied into effective job-site enforcement of immigration laws. But, put them together and you might really have something.

Of course, the worst solution would be the inverse result where huge numbers of currently employed American citizens get squeezed out by a higher minimum wage and get replaced by new illegal aliens working off the books for less than the nominal minimum. 

December 9, 2013

Another triumph of multi-culti capitalism

In the bad old days of White Bread America, the dominant retirement savings model was the pension: your employer would take money that would otherwise be paid to you and invest it, then send you a check every month after you retire. Obviously, this lack of freedom is inferior to the modern diverse system in which you are given all sorts of options and incentives to invest your earnings in 401Ks and the like. 

Except, under the modern mode, the diverse tend to spend their earnings right now.

From the Washington Post:
Many blacks and Latinos have no retirement savings, study shows
By Michael A. Fletcher,  
Fewer than half of blacks and Latino workers have retirement plans on the job, leaving the vast majority of them with no savings designated for their golden years, according to a report to be released Tuesday. 
Americans of all races face the growing prospect of downward mobility in retirement, the report said, but the problem is particularly acute for blacks and Hispanics. 
More often than not, blacks and Latinos benefit little from the tax breaks and other policy initiatives aimed at bolstering retirement security because they typically have no money to save for retirement in IRAs and other vehicles outside the workplace, according to Diane Oakley, executive director of the National Institute on Retirement Security (NIRS), which conducted the study. In addition, they are much less likely than whites to have defined-benefit pensions, particularly outside of public sector jobs. 
“Those are startling findings,” Oakley said. “The typical household of color has nothing saved in a retirement account.” 
Meanwhile, a host of state and local governments have been cutting back on pension benefits for public employees, saying they cannot afford their long-term cost. 
Such public employee pensions, which typically pay a fixed benefit for life, have been of particular help to African Americans, who make up a disproportionate share of government workers. ...
“One of the big issues here is a gap in access,” Oakley said. “We have what is essentially a voluntary retirement system and what we know is when we look at minority households, their access to retirement plans on the job is much less than that for whites.”

Liberty, equality, diversity: pick one.

Why Linda Tirado? Why not a genuine poor person?

As you've no doubt heard, Linda Tirado recently published a wildly popular essay about why her poverty forces her to make impoverishing decisions:
This Is Why Poor People's Bad Decisions Make Perfect Sense 
There's no way to structure this coherently. They are random observations that might help explain the mental processes. But often, I think that we look at the academic problems of poverty and have no idea of the why. We know the what and the how, and we can see systemic problems, but it's rare to have a poor person actually explain it on their own behalf. So this is me doing that, sort of. 
Rest is a luxury for the rich. ...

(Which might comes as surprise to intern MD's, lawyers who haven't made partner, untenured professors, entrepreneurs, and so forth, but never mind.)

Kind-hearted people immediately sent her $60,000, which she took to Las Vegas.

Not surprisingly, it turns out Ms. Tirado comes from an upper middle class background (e.g., she could have been a boarding student at Cranbrook School, where Mitt Romney matriculated). And she isn't all that poor in income. Her husband is in the military (soldiers aren't well paid, but they are a lot better paid than they were pre-1981). And her parents help her out.

(Since the exposure of her actual story, she now seems to emphasize her personal mental health problems as the root of her problems, which is kind of the opposite of the original moral of the story.)

The question I want to ask is this: In America, there are millions and millions of genuinely born-poor-and-stayed-that-way people. And yet, none of them managed to exploit this evident opportunity as effectively as this child of privilege. Why not?

My impression is that Tirado smartly exploited a meme that has been hot in what we might call the Gladwellsphere ever since the publication on August 20, 2013 of a paper in Science:
Poverty Impedes Cognitive Function
The poor often behave in less capable ways, which can further perpetuate poverty. We hypothesize that poverty directly impedes cognitive function and present two studies that test this hypothesis. First, we experimentally induced thoughts about finances and found that this reduces cognitive performance among poor but not in well-off participants. Second, we examined the cognitive function of farmers over the planting cycle. We found that the same farmer shows diminished cognitive performance before harvest, when poor, as compared with after harvest, when rich. This cannot be explained by differences in time available, nutrition, or work effort. Nor can it be explained with stress: Although farmers do show more stress before harvest, that does not account for diminished cognitive performance. Instead, it appears that poverty itself reduces cognitive capacity. We suggest that this is because poverty-related concerns consume mental resources, leaving less for other tasks. These data provide a previously unexamined perspective and help explain a spectrum of behaviors among the poor. We discuss some implications for poverty policy.

For an example of how welcome this study was to the conventional wisdom, here's Matthew Yglesias summarizing the meme in Slate on September 3:
Bad Decisions Don’t Make You Poor. Being Poor Makes for Bad Decisions.

In other words, this study was welcome fodder in the constant hunger for clickbait about how "Republicans Are Wrong Because Science." Lots of other publications in what you might call the semi-bright realm of the media, The Atlantic, NPR, etc., made a big, big deal over this. So the market was primed for somebody like Tirado who has the kind of rhetorical skills that appeal to SWPLs (despite all her complaints that lack of money has lowered her IQ, she's a deft writer who understands what her market wants to hear) to step forward with the seeming inside skinny that personalizes this popular meme.

Among people born poor who have stayed that way, however, few can write as well as Tirado; but I have to imagine that in a country as large as America, there must be some who can.

More subtle roadblocks to an actual poor person cashing in the way Ms. Tirado has include:

Genuine poor people, in contrast, don't really pay much attention to the Huffington Post and the like and aren't really that interested in the partisan battles that consume so many people of higher classes.

Moreover, genuine poor people tend to have attitudes and beliefs and ways of expressing them that are distinctly off-putting to SWPLs. But real poor people are seldom sensitive enough to the class marker aversions of the upper middle class to write a long essay that avoids stepping on any of those class land mines. For example, Tirado smokes cigarettes -- a prole habit these days -- but the way she verbally rationalizes her smoking as a manifestation of her victimhood is upscale. That's a tricky combination to pull off.

In other words, it really is better to be from an upper middle class background. People will treat you nicer, as they've treated Ms. Tirado.

And it's better to be intelligent enough -- even if you are signally lacking in Executive Function -- to pick up quickly on the ideas filtering down from the upper reaches of society the way that Ms. Tirado jumped all over the "Poverty Impedes Cognitive Function" boomlet.

P.S., In contrast, Audacious Epigone writes an essay, based on General Social Survey data, about what a typical underclass woman would say if she could write as well as Tirado and were honest.

For more insights into the complex interplay of poverty and bad decisions, here is The Onion's opinion columnist Amber Richardson's trenchant essay Why Somebody Always Around Every Time I Drop My Baby? Other illuminating efforts by Ms. Richardson are here, here, and here.