November 27, 2015

Wealth, inequality, and billionaires

Filed under: Economics, Government, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Several months ago, the Washington Post reported on a new study of wealth and inequality that tracked how many billionaires got rich through competition in the market and how many got rich through political “connections”:

The researchers found that wealth inequality was growing over time: Wealth inequality increased in 17 of the 23 countries they measured between 1987 and 2002, and fell in only six, Bagchi says. They also found that their measure of wealth inequality corresponded with a negative effect on economic growth. In other words, the higher the proportion of billionaire wealth in a country, the slower that country’s growth. In contrast, they found that income inequality and poverty had little effect on growth.

The most fascinating finding came from the next step in their research, when they looked at the connection between wealth, growth and political connections.

The researchers argue that past studies have looked at the level of inequality in a country, but not why inequality occurs — whether it’s a product of structural inequality, like political power or racism, or simply a product of some people or companies faring better than others in the market. For example, Indonesia and the United Kingdom actually score similarly on a common measure of inequality called the Gini coefficient, say the authors. Yet clearly the political and business environments in those countries are very different.

So Bagchi and Svejnar carefully went through the lists of all the Forbes billionaires, and divided them into those who had acquired their wealth due to political connections, and those who had not. This is kind of a slippery slope — almost all billionaires have probably benefited from government connections at one time or another. But the researchers used a very conservative standard for classifying people as politically connected, only assigning billionaires to this group when it was clear that their wealth was a product of government connections. Just benefiting from a government that was pro-business, like those in Singapore and Hong Kong, wasn’t enough. Rather, the researchers were looking for a situation like Indonesia under Suharto, where political connections were usually needed to secure import licenses, or Russia in the mid-1990s, when some state employees made fortunes overnight as the state privatized assets.

The researchers found that some countries had a much higher proportion of billionaire wealth that was due to political connections than others did. As the graph below, which ranks only countries that appeared in all four of the Forbes billionaire lists they analyzed, shows, Colombia, India, Australia and Indonesia ranked high on the list, while the U.S. and U.K. ranked very low.

Wealth and political connections

Looking at all the data, the researchers found that Russia, Argentina, Colombia, Malaysia, India, Australia, Indonesia, Thailand, South Korea and Italy had relatively more politically connected wealth. Hong Kong, the Netherlands, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland and the U.K. all had zero politically connected billionaires. The U.S. also had very low levels of politically connected wealth inequality, falling just outside the top 10 at number 11.

When the researchers compared these figures to economic growth, the findings were clear: These politically connected billionaires weighed on economic growth. In fact, wealth inequality that came from political connections was responsible for nearly all the negative effect on economic growth that the researchers had observed from wealth inequality overall. Wealth inequality that wasn’t due to political connections, income inequality and poverty all had little effect on growth.

QotD: The myth of the “permanent majority”

Filed under: Government, Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Many Republicans seem confident that last week’s performance in the mid-term elections bodes the end of the Obama era, and the dawn of the bright Republican future. Many Democrats seem confident that last week’s performance in the midterms was a mere blip on the way to the Emerging Democratic Majority. Both sides would do well to read Sean Trende’s 2012 book, The Lost Majority, which I made my way through this weekend.

To state Trende’s thesis simply: There is no such thing as a permanent majority. Parties are coalitions of disparate groups of voters, and they win by strapping enough different groups together to push themselves across the electoral finish line. Unfortunately, the broader your coalition, the harder it is to hold together. Those different groups may have radically different values and interests; satisfying one may end up alienating the other. Trende suggests that the longest-lived coalition was not, in fact Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s famed “realignment,” which showed large cracks as early as 1937, but the Eisenhower coalition that lasted roughly from 1952 to 1988. As the dates suggest, the reason for unity was the external threat from the Soviet Union. That’s a pretty stiff price to pay for internal unity.

I took two major things away from the book: First, you can’t count on demographics to hand you a victory in such a vast and diverse country, because today’s coalition members may end up as a large and growing pillar of the opposition. And second, although both parties are constantly hunting for a mandate for radical change, the voters almost never deliver one. The party stalwarts may want to tear down the current edifice and start over, but the less ideological coalition partners are usually looking for some light redecorating, perhaps along with a specific personal interest like freedom of conscience in business operations, or less restrictive immigration policy. The harder the parties push on their ideological platforms, the faster the “coalition of everyone” starts leaking supporters to the opposition.

Megan McArdle, “No Party Will Get a Permanent Majority”, Bloomberg View, 2014-11-10.

November 19, 2015

The historical origins of the nation-state

Filed under: Government, History — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Samizdata Illuminatus” on the historical evolution of a bunch of armed thugs into a modern government:

… I was familiar with the hypothesis that the origin of the modern state has its roots in criminal enterprise, yet it is always amusing attempting to reconcile this with the modern state’s increasingly matronly efforts to get its subjects to behave themselves. And it is certainly far from an implausible theory, when you consider how similar the objectives of a criminal enterprise and a state can be. The major difference is, of course, that the state functions within the law — hardly surprising since it is the major source of law — while criminal organisations operate outside of the law. But honestly, how could the activity of a crime gang that defeated a local rival in a turf war be described as anything other than a spot of localised gun control — in terms of ends, if perhaps not means?

But the article got me thinking about what we can do and perhaps intend to do about what Sean Gabb would describe as “the ruling class” — the politicians and senior bureaucrats — but also the minor apparatchiks, too. In terms of the big picture stuff, the bolded part above resonates with me as particularly axiomatic, and if libertarians or classical liberals or small government conservatives or one of the very many labels we choose to call ourselves — if we stand for any one single thing, surely it is for the obliteration of this instinct, this scourge, from the human species. Yes, I am fully aware that previous efforts to change human nature for various ends have generally worked out appallingly, so maybe I should write about ‘disincentivising’ an instinct rather than ‘obliterating’ it. (I’m keeping ‘scourge’. Fair’s fair.) Although there are those amongst us who favour a muscular Ceaușescu solution to big government for those who believe they can spend our hard-earned better than we can, along with those willing to assist them in taking it off us and spending it. Others prefer an incremental strategy of rolling back government to the point that those who wish to “command economic resources” for a living find they enjoy slightly less demand for their services than a VCR repairman. I suspect both methods, perhaps working in concert at times, will be necessary at differing stages of the struggle against the statists if we are ever to be able to declare victory over them (and then leave them alone, as Glenn Reynolds is wont to say).

I do have a gripe about a distinction the author makes between paper-stamping, useless, make-work bureaucracy, and “public goods” bureaucracy, an example of which he doesn’t actually specify, although throughout the piece the inference is quite clear that he’s referring to schools and hospitals and the like — and presumably in the parts of schools and hospitals where service provision takes place; not where the (many) papers are pushed and stamped. Now, many here (rightly, I believe) probably object to the contention made that the market traditionally failed to provide such services of the “public good”, hence the state springing to the rescue to address this “market failure”. There are many people here — Paul Marks comes to mind — who will know a great deal more than I do about the patchwork of friendly societies and other private arrangements that individuals and their families paid into voluntarily and turned to for financial aid in times of illness, unemployment, or other trouble, as well as the nature of the education sector prior to the era of compulsory government schooling; the vast majority of which was crowded out by “free” state healthcare and education. However, my purpose is not wish to dwell on this now, interesting a topic as it is.

November 18, 2015

A maple-flavoured world’s first?

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Business, Cancon, Government — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 04:00

On the Mercatus Centre site, Laura Jones points out an unexpected Canadian first:

Canada recently became the first country in the world to legislate a cap on regulation. The Red Tape Reduction Act, which became law on April 23, 2015, requires the federal government to eliminate at least one regulation for every new one introduced. Remarkably, the legislation received near-unanimous support across the political spectrum: 245 votes in favor of the bill and 1 opposed. This policy development has not gone unnoticed outside Canada’s borders.

Canada’s federal government has captured headlines, but its approach was borrowed from the province of British Columbia (BC) where controlling red tape has been a priority for more than a decade. BC’s regulatory reform dates back to 2001 when a newly elected government put in place policies to make good on its ambitious election promise to reduce the regulatory burden by one-third in three years. The results have been impressive. The government has reduced regulatory requirements by 43 percent relative to when the initiative started. During this time period, the province went from being one of the poorest-performing economies in the country to being among the best. While there were other factors at play in the BC’s economic turnaround, members of the business community widely credit red tape reduction with playing a critical role.

The British Columbia model, while certainly not perfect, is among the most promising examples of regulatory reform in North America. It offers valuable lessons for US governments interested in tackling the important challenge of keeping regulations reasonable. The basics of the BC model are not complicated: political leadership, measurement, and a hard cap on regulatory activity.

This paper describes British Columbia’s reforms, evaluates their effectiveness, and offers practical “lessons learned” to governments interested in the elusive goal of regulatory reform capable of making a lasting difference. It also offers some important lessons for business groups and think tanks outside government that are pushing to reduce red tape. These groups can make all the difference in framing the issue in such a way that it can gain wide support from policymakers. A brief discussion of the challenges of accurately defining and quantifying regulation and red tape add context to understanding the BC model, and more broadly, some of the challenges associated with effective exercises in cutting red tape.

While I’m a huge fan of reducing the regulatory burden in theory, I can’t help but expect to be disappointed about the implementation in reality… (however, should the federal bureaucracy somehow manage to perform nearly as well as the BC experiment, it’ll be Justin Trudeau getting the credit for it, rather than Stephen Harper — but better that the country benefits as a whole rather than the former PM gets boasting rights.)

November 14, 2015

The US government has morphed from being part of “us” to being “them”

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Government, History, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Charles Murray explains why so many Americans are feeling alienated from their own government:

I have been led to this position by what I believe to be a truth about where America stands: The federal government is no longer “us” but “them.” It is no longer an extension of the people through their elected representatives. It is no longer a republican bulwark against the arbitrary use of power. It has become an entity unto itself, separated from the American people and beyond the effective control of the political process. In this situation, the foundational principles of our nation come into play: The government does not command the blind allegiance of the citizenry. Government is instituted to protect our unalienable rights. The more destructive it becomes of those rights, the less it can call upon our allegiance.

I won’t try to lay out the whole case for concluding that our duty of allegiance has been radically diminished — that takes a few hundred pages. But let me summarize the ways in which the federal government has not simply become bigger and more intrusive since Bill Buckley founded National Review, but has also become “them,” and no longer an extension of “us.”


In 1937, Helvering v. Davis explicitly held that the federal government could spend money on the “general welfare,” establishing that the government’s powers were not limited to those enumerated in the Constitution. In 1938, Carolene Products did what the Ninth Amendment had been intended to prevent — it limited the rights of the American people to those that were explicitly mentioned in the Constitution and its amendments. Making matters worse, the Court also limited the circumstances under which it would protect even those explicitly named rights. In 1942, Wickard v. Filburn completed the reinterpretation of “commerce” so that the commerce clause became, in the words of federal judge Alex Kozinski, the “Hey, you can do anything you feel like” clause.

Momentous as these decisions were, they were arguably not as crucial to the evolution of the federal government from “us” to “them” as the decisions that led to the regulatory state. Until the 1930s, a body of jurisprudence known as the “nondelegation doctrine” had put strict limits on how much power Congress could delegate to the executive branch. The agencies of the executive branch obviously had to be given some latitude to interpret the text of legislation, but Congress was required to specify an “intelligible principle” whenever it passed a law that gave the executive branch a new task. In 1943, National Broadcasting Co. v. United States dispensed with that requirement, holding that it was okay for Congress to tell the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to write regulations for allocating radio licenses “as public convenience, interest, or necessity requires” — an undefined, and hence unintelligible, principle. And so we now live in a world in which Congress passes laws with grandiose goals, loosely defined, and delegates responsibility for interpreting those goals exclusively to regulatory agencies that have no accountability to the citizenry and only limited accountability to the president of the United States.

The de facto legislative power delegated to regulatory agencies is only one aspect of their illegitimacy. Citizens who have not been hit with an accusation of a violation may not realize how Orwellian the regulatory state has become. If you run afoul of an agency such as the FCC and want to defend yourself, you don’t go to a regular court. You go to an administrative court run by the agency. You don’t get a jury. The case is decided by an administrative judge who is an employee of the agency. You do not need to be found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, but rather by the loosest of all legal standards, a preponderance of the evidence. The regulatory agency is also free of many of the rules that constrain police and prosecutors in the normal legal system. For example, regulatory agencies are not required to show probable cause for getting a search warrant. A regulatory agency can inspect a property or place of business under broad conditions that it has set for itself.

There’s much more, but it amounts to this: Regulatory agencies, or the regulatory divisions within cabinet agencies, operate as self-contained entities that create de facto laws that Congress would never have passed on an up-or-down vote. They then act as both police and judge in enforcing the laws they have created. It amounts to an extra-legal state within the state.

I have focused on the regulatory state because it now looms so large in daily life as to have provoked a reaction that crosses political divides: American government isn’t supposed to work this way.

November 13, 2015

QotD: To many the very concept of “tax competition” is anathema

Filed under: Economics, Government, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

I have written a fair bit on this site and elsewhere (I work in the financial/media world) about this subject, and there is no doubt in my mind that the idea that tax competition is harmful is almost always held by politicians and collectivist-minded commentators who want to create a sort of global tax cartel. Cartels are, we learn in our textbooks, harmful although they tend to fracture with time. (The OPEC cartel had a problem in the 80s and 90 sustaining high oil prices, which at one stage went below $10 a barrel). However futile the attempt, however, do not underestimate the harm that is being done in the process of trying to shut down offshore financial centres and the like. The possibility that people can and will take their money elsewhere is one of the few constraints that exist on otherwise rapacious governments. So naturally, governments try to stop this from happening – hence all this talk about shutting down tax “competition”.

When governments claim that tax dodgers are taking food from the mouths of poor babies, treat it with scorn. The money that goes offshore doesn’t disappear down some black hole, never to appear again: that money, if it is to earn a return and outpace inflation, is invested – ie, it is put to work, often far more effectively than would otherwise be the case.

Johnathan Pearce, “The end of tax competition?”, Samizdata, 2014-11-07.

November 12, 2015

QotD: What repression looks like from the inside

Filed under: Government, Liberty, Media, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Reaction isn’t a conspiracy theory; it’s not suggesting there’s a secret campaign for organized repression. To steal an example from the other side of the aisle, it’s positing something more like patriarchy. Patriarchy doesn’t have an actual Patriarch coordinating men in their efforts to keep down women. It’s just that when lots of people share some really strong cultural norms, they manage to self-organize into a kind of immune system for rejecting new ideas. And Western society just happens to have a really strong progressivist immune system ready to gobble you up if you say anything insufficiently progressive.

And so the main difference between modern liberal democracy and older repressive societies is that older societies repressed things you liked, but modern liberal democracies only repress things you don’t like. Having only things you don’t like repressed looks from the inside a lot like there being no repression at all.

The good Catholic in medieval Spain doesn’t feel repressed, even when the Inquisition drags away her neighbor. She feels like decent people have total freedom to worship whichever saint they want, total freedom to go to whatever cathedral they choose, total freedom to debate who the next bishop should be – oh, and thank goodness someone’s around to deal with those crazy people who are trying to damn the rest of us to Hell. We medieval Spaniards are way too smart to fall for the balance fallacy!

Wait, You Mean The Invisible Multi-Tentacled Monster That Has Taken Over All Our Information Sources Might Be Trying To Mislead Us?

Since you are a citizen of a repressive society, you should be extremely skeptical of all the information you get from schools, the media, and popular books on any topic related to the areas where active repression is occurring. That means at least politics, history, economics, race, and gender. You should be especially skeptical of any book that’s praised as “a breath of fresh air” or “a good counter to the prevailing bias”, as books that garner praise in the media are probably of the “We need fifty Stalins!” variety.

Scott Alexander, “Reactionary Philosophy In An Enormous, Planet-Sized Nutshell”, Slate Star Codex, 2013-03-03.

November 7, 2015

QotD: Humane punishment for criminals

Filed under: Government, Law, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Modern countries pride themselves on their humane treatment of prisoners. And by “humane”, I mean “lock them up in a horrible and psychologically traumatizing concrete jail for ten years of being beaten and raped and degraded, sometimes barely even seeing the sun or a green plant for that entire time, then put it on their permanent record so they can never get a good job or interact with normal people ever again when they come out.”

Compare this to what “inhumane” countries that were still into “cruel and unusual punishment” would do for the same crime. A couple of lashes with the whip, then you’re on your way.

Reader. You have just been convicted of grand theft auto (the crime, not the game). You’re innocent, but the prosecutor was very good at her job and you’ve used up all your appeals and you’re just going to have to accept the punishment. The judge gives you two options:

1) Five years in prison
2) Fifty strokes of the lash

Like everyone else except a few very interesting people who help provide erotic fantasies for the rest of us, I don’t like being whipped. But I would choose (2) in a fraction of a heartbeat.

And aside from being better for me, it would be better for society as well. We know that people who spend time in prison are both more likely to stay criminals in the future and better at being criminals. And each year in jail costs the State $50,000; more than it would cost to give a kid a year’s free tuition at Harvard. Cutting the prison system in half would free up approximately enough money to give free college tuition to all students at the best school they can get into.

But of course we don’t do that. We stick with the prisons and the rape and the kids who go work at McDonalds because they can’t afford college. Why? Progressives!

If we were to try to replace prison with some kind of corporal punishment, progressives would freak out and say we were cruel and inhumane. Since the prison population is disproportionately minority, they would probably get to use their favorite word-beginning-with-“R”, and allusions would be made to plantation owners who used to whip slaves. In fact, progressives would come up with some reason to oppose even giving criminals the option of corporal punishment (an option most would certainly take) and any politician insufficiently progressive to even recommend it would no doubt be in for some public flagellation himself, albeit of a less literal kind.

So once again, we have an uncanny valley. Being very nice to prisoners is humane and effective (Norway seems to be trying this with some success), but we’re not going to do it because we’re dumb and it’s probably too expensive anyway. Being very strict to prisoners is humane and effective – the corporal punishment option. But being somewhere in the fuzzy middle is cruel to the prisoners and incredibly destructive to society – and it’s the only route the progressives will allow us to take.

Scott Alexander, “Reactionary Philosophy In An Enormous, Planet-Sized Nutshell”, Slate Star Codex, 2013-03-03.

November 1, 2015

QotD: Germany’s class system

Filed under: Europe, Government, History, Humour, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

As a trader, I am inclined to think the German will, unless his temperament considerably change, remain always a long way behind his Anglo-Saxon competitor; and this by reason of his virtues. To him life is something more important than a mere race for wealth. A country that closes its banks and post-offices for two hours in the middle of the day, while it goes home and enjoys a comfortable meal in the bosom of its family, with, perhaps, forty winks by way of dessert, cannot hope, and possibly has no wish, to compete with a people that takes its meals standing, and sleeps with a telephone over its bed. In Germany there is not, at all events as yet, sufficient distinction between the classes to make the struggle for position the life and death affair it is in England. Beyond the landed aristocracy, whose boundaries are impregnable, grade hardly counts. Frau Professor and Frau Candlestickmaker meet at the Weekly Kaffee-Klatsch and exchange scandal on terms of mutual equality. The livery-stable keeper and the doctor hobnob together at their favourite beer hall. The wealthy master builder, when he prepares his roomy waggon for an excursion into the country, invites his foreman and his tailor to join him with their families. Each brings his share of drink and provisions, and returning home they sing in chorus the same songs. So long as this state of things endures, a man is not induced to sacrifice the best years of his life to win a fortune for his dotage. His tastes, and, more to the point still, his wife’s, remain inexpensive. He likes to see his flat or villa furnished with much red plush upholstery and a profusion of gilt and lacquer. But that is his idea; and maybe it is in no worse taste than is a mixture of bastard Elizabethan with imitation Louis XV, the whole lit by electric light, and smothered with photographs. Possibly, he will have his outer walls painted by the local artist: a sanguinary battle, a good deal interfered with by the front door, taking place below, while Bismarck, as an angel, flutters vaguely about the bedroom windows. But for his Old Masters he is quite content to go to the public galleries; and “the Celebrity at Home” not having as yet taken its place amongst the institutions of the Fatherland, he is not impelled to waste his, money turning his house into an old curiosity shop.

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men on the Bummel, 1914.

October 28, 2015

Reducing the costs of regulation

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Government, Health, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Henry I. Miller discusses a worthwhile regulatory change that would increase the availability of medicines in the US marketplace without reducing public safety:

The FDA would be a good place to start. Bringing a new drug to market now requires 10-15 years, and costs have skyrocketed to an average of more than $2.5 billion (including both out-of-pocket and opportunity costs) – largely because FDA requirements have increased the length and number of clinical trials per marketing application, and their complexity.

The detrimental effects of FDA delays in approving certain new drugs already available in other industrialized countries are well-documented and deserve as much attention as drugs’ high costs. An example is the three-year delay in the approval of misoprostol, a drug for the treatment of gastric bleeding, which is estimated to have cost between 8,000 and 15,000 lives per year.


A practical workaround to overcome regulators’ risk-aversion and capriciousness would be “reciprocity” of approvals with certain foreign “A-list” governments, so that an approval in one country would be reciprocated automatically by the others. That would make more drugs available sooner in all of the participating countries, increasing competition and putting downward pressure on prices.

Such an innovation would also help to alleviate another critical problem: The United States is experiencing shortages of certain critical pharmaceuticals, many of which have been essential in medical practice for decades. The majority are generic injectable medications commonly used in hospitals, including analgesics, cancer drugs, anesthetics, antipsychotics for psychiatric emergencies, and electrolytes needed for patients on IV supplementation. Hospitals are scrambling to assure adequate supplies of drugs that are in short supply, or to find substitutes for them. Reciprocal approvals would make numerous alternatives available.

As referenced yesterday, the FDA regulations also create temporary monopoly situations where only one company has the permit from the regulator to produce this or that medicine, so there’s nothing standing in the way of massive price increases if there are no close substitutes to provide price competition.

October 22, 2015

QotD: The historical triumph of public health

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Government, Health, History, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

… the great public health achievements between roughly 1850 and 1960. Doctors and public health experts were given extraordinarily broad powers by the government, and they used them to eliminate the scourges that had made cities into pestholes from time immemorial. They built gleaming sewers and water treatment plants to wipe out virulent water-borne pathogens that used to regularly claim thousands of lives. Contact-tracing and quarantine of airborne and sexually transmitted diseases turned former plagues like smallpox and syphilis into tragic but sporadic outbreaks. Changes in building codes helped beat back mass killers like tuberculosis. Poison control cut down on both accidental and deliberate deaths. The Pure Food and Drug Act, and similar ordinances in other countries, reduced foodborne illness, and also, the casual acquisition of opiate or cocaine addictions through patent medicines. Malarial swamps were drained. Environmental toxins were identified and banned. Then they went and invented antibiotics and vaccines and vaccination laws, and suddenly surgery was as safe as a long-haul flight, TB was curable, and childhood illnesses that used to kill hundreds of people every year were a quaint footnote in your 10th-grade history textbook.

Having seen public experts work these miracles through the heavy hand of the state, people understandably concluded we could use miracles in other areas. They had a metaphor, so to speak. The metaphor wasn’t very good, as is often the case, but it took a while to find out that you couldn’t solve a problem in your steel supply chain with the same system that was so good at tracing cholera outbreaks to tainted pumps.


This is an overreaction to a terrible failure, for two reasons. First, big bureaucracies fail all the time, especially in the face of novel threats. A large institution is like a battleship: hard to sink, but also hard to turn. Public health experts of earlier eras made grave mistakes, like dumping London’s untreated sewage into the Thames; public health experts of the future will too. The more important question is whether they correct themselves, as it seems to me the CDC is now doing.

The second is that this is not your grandfather’s public health system. Public health experts were, in a way, too successful; they beat back our infectious disease load to the point where most of us have never had anything more serious than Human papillomavirus or a bad case of the flu. This left them without that much to do. So they reinvented themselves as the overseers of everything that might make us unhealthy, from French Fries to work stress.

As with the steel mills, these problems are not necessarily amenable to the organizational tools used to tackle tuberculosis. The more the public and private health system are focused on these problems, the less optimized they will be for fighting the war against infectious disease. It is less surprising to find that they didn’t know how to respond to a novel infectious disease than it would have been to discover that they botched a new campaign against texting and driving.

Megan McArdle, “Will Ebola Be Good for the CDC?”, Bloomberg View, 2014-10-20.

October 17, 2015

Moynihan’s scissors

Filed under: Government, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

David Warren looks at the work of the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan:

We are celebrating this year, if that is the word, the fiftieth anniversary of perhaps the most inconsequential sociological study ever published. That was, The Negro Family: The Case For National Action, by the brilliant American politician and thinker, Daniel Patrick Moynihan (1927–2003).

Working then in the U.S. Department of Labour, Moynihan focused his attention on a counter-intuitive statistical fact. Unemployment among black males was falling, in 1965. But rates of welfare enrollment for black families was rising. This did not make sense. The two lines on this chart had always fallen or risen together. But they had crossed over in 1962. He had put his finger in what came to be called, “Moynihan’s scissors.”

[…] while the “Moynihan Report” is famous, and at one time, everyone claimed to have read it, it contains something so obnoxious to enlightened post-modern thought as to remain invisible to all participants in the discussion.

This was Moynihan’s sociological and anthropological observation that the American black culture was becoming “matriarchal.” Whether without, or more likely with the help of welfare programmes, women were becoming the heads of households, and men were being removed from that station.

(The background: All of the higher civilizations have been unambiguously patriarchal; matriarchy is associated in the prehistoric and anthropological record with savage, gratuitously violent, self-destructive tribes.)

Already, in 1965, one in four black kids in the USA were born out of wedlock. Today it is more than three in four, and levels of bastardy among the other races have risen in course. By the end of the last century (1990s), white children were as likely to be raised in fatherless homes as black children had been in the 1960s. “Progress” has been progressing rapidly.

The Nanny State has replaced fathers as the principal source of income for such families (bankrupting itself in the process), and the feminist movement has supplied the arguments — or more precisely, misandronist slogans and vindictive clichés — for the overthrow of “patriarchy” and its systematic replacement with a shrewish matriarchy in all facets of social life. The movement has been, moreover, so successful in achieving its objects — the emasculation of men, and degradation or actual inversion of traditional morality — that it has now moved on. For with the defeat of masculinity, new horizons of “gender-bending” or “transgendering” have come into view.

Now, part of the reason people can’t get their little heads around what has actually happened — first to the black family, then to the brown, then to the white — is the surviving, basically modern (i.e. pre-post-modern) belief that eunuchs behave much like fairies; that they become docile and effeminate, harmless and nurturing, sensitive and sweet; that their previously reprehensible “masculine” traits will quietly disappear. Some men do indeed respond to emasculation by becoming the pathetic, contemptible wimps that all women, including feminists, instinctively abhor. But some do not.

As a well-read student of social sciences and history, Moynihan knew better than this. The masculine capacity for violence (at all levels, spiritual as much as physical) does not go away. From Spartan Laconia, backwards and forwards through history on all continents, we see that eunuchs and other “homosexual” (the word is inadequate) guards and soldiers have been employed by the great warrior despots. This is because they make the fiercest fighters. Having no families, no heritage to protect, no women and children to feed and shelter in safety, they become a purely destructive force. They become men who do not care even for their own lives, let alone for the lives of others.

October 13, 2015

Britain’s National Health Service runs up a “deficit of almost £1 billion in just three months”

Filed under: Britain, Government, Health — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 04:00

In the Telegraph a report on the dire financial straits of Britain’s NHS:

NHS trusts in England have racked up a deficit approaching £1 billion in the first three months of the financial year – the worst financial position “in a generation,” regulators have said.

The figure is more than the £820 million overspend for the entire previous year.

Experts warned of a looming winter crisis.

They said the “staggering” figures would result in widespread cutbacks to services, with lengthening waiting times and increased rationing of care.

The statistics for April to June show an overall deficit of £930m across England’s 241 NHS hospital trusts, with three in four trusts in the red.

The statistics show NHS Foundation Trusts had a deficit of £445 million. Other NHS trusts ended the first quarter of the year £485 million in deficit.

The foundation trust sector is under “massive pressure” and can no longer afford to go on as it is, the financial regulator Monitor said.

Regulators said an “over-reliance” on agency nurses and doctors to plug shortages of staff was fuelling the growing debt, which is forecast to reach a record high.

There “is no such thing as an American foreign policy”

Filed under: Government, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In the Wall Street Journal, Niall Ferguson describes the “Real Obama Doctrine” in US foreign policy:

Even before becoming Richard Nixon’s national security adviser, Henry Kissinger understood how hard it was to make foreign policy in Washington. There “is no such thing as an American foreign policy,” Mr. Kissinger wrote in 1968. There is only “a series of moves that have produced a certain result” that they “may not have been planned to produce.” It is “research and intelligence organizations,” he added, that “attempt to give a rationality and consistency” which “it simply does not have.”

Two distinctively American pathologies explained the fundamental absence of coherent strategic thinking. First, the person at the top was selected for other skills. “The typical political leader of the contemporary managerial society,” noted Mr. Kissinger, “is a man with a strong will, a high capacity to get himself elected, but no very great conception of what he is going to do when he gets into office.”

Second, the government was full of people trained as lawyers. In making foreign policy, Mr. Kissinger once remarked, “you have to know what history is relevant.” But lawyers were “the single most important group in Government,” he said, and their principal drawback was “a deficiency in history.” This was a long-standing prejudice of his. “The clever lawyers who run our government,” he thundered in a 1956 letter to a friend, have weakened the nation by instilling a “quest for minimum risk which is our most outstanding characteristic.”

Let’s see, now. A great campaigner. A bunch of lawyers. And a “quest for minimum risk.” What is it about this combination that sounds familiar?

I have spent much of the past seven years trying to work out what Barack Obama’s strategy for the United States truly is. For much of his presidency, as a distinguished general once remarked to me about the commander in chief’s strategy, “we had to infer it from speeches.”

October 11, 2015

Take all the negative aspects of social media … and then tie in your political and financial activities

Filed under: China, Government, Media, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Welcome to China’s idea of the perfect social media environment. Charles Stross describes the proposal and its likely impact on Chinese life:

So, let’s start by synopsizing the Privacy Online News report. It’s basically a state-run universal credit score, where you’re measured on a scale from 350 to 950. But it’s not just about your financial planning ability; it also reflects your political opinions. On the financial side, if you buy products the government approves of your credit score increases: wastes of time (such as video games) cost you points. China’s main social networks feed data into it and you can lose points big-time by expressing political opinions without prior permission, talking about history (where it diverges from the official version — e.g. the events of 1989 in Tiananmen Square — hey, I just earned myself a negative credit score there!), or saying anything that’s politically embarrassing.

The special social network magic comes into play when you learn that if your friends do this, your score also suffers. You can see what they just did to you: are you angry yet? Social pressure is a pervasive force and it’s going to be exerted on participants whether they like it or not, by friends looking for the goodies that come from having a high citizen score: goodies like instant loans for online shopping, car rentals without needing a deposit, or fast-track access to foreign travel visas. Also, everyone’s credit score is visible online, making it easy to ditch those embarrassingly ranty cocktail-party friends who insist on harshing your government credit karma by not conforming.

The gamification of social conformity, overseen by an authoritarian government and mediated by nudge theory, is a thing of beauty and horror; who needs cops with nightsticks to beat up dissidents when their friends and family will give them a tongue-lashing on behalf of the government for the price of a discount off a new fridge?

But don’t worry, I could make it a whole lot worse.

The first notable point about this system is that it’s an oppressive system that runs at a profit. Consider the instant no-collateral loans for online shopping: the Chinese system only grants these to folks who are a good credit bet. The debt will be repaid. Meanwhile it goes into providing a Keynesian stimulus for the productive side of the economy. And it rewards people for political right-thinking. What’s not to like?

Governments love nudge theory because it offers a cheap shortcut to enforcing social policy, even when the social policy in question is utterly broken. Paying a cop costs money — not just their salary and the cost of their uniform, but the station they work out of, the support personnel who keep the police force operating (janitors, human resources, vehicle maintenance), and the far less tangible political cost of being seen to wield a big stick and force people not to do what they want to do (or to do things that you want them to). Using big data to give folks a credit score, then paying them bright and shiny but essentially cost-free bonuses if they do what you want? That’s priceless. You may not be able to track folks who like to toke up directly (if it’s illegal in your jurisdiction), but you can penalize them for hanging out with known cannabis users and buying paraphernalia. More to the point, you can socially isolate users and get their family to give them grief without the unpalatable excesses (and negative headlines) of no-knock raids and cops kicking down the wrong door and shooting children by mistake. One may ask whether the medical marijuana movement and decriminalization pressure would have got off the ground in the United States if a citizenship scoring system with downvotes for pot users was in place. Or whether emancipatory rights movements could exist at all in a society that indirectly penalizes people for “wrong lifestyle choices” rather than relying on imperfectly applied but very visible and hateful boots and nightsticks.

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