February 2010

Robin Hanson links to another gated academic publication, all the more frustrating due to its eye-catching title: “Why Liberals and Atheists are More Intelligent.” In a study conducted by evolutionary psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa, it is asserted that the more intelligent are better able to grasp the counter-intuitive appeal of both an expanding role for sympathy for non-kin and a universe without an intentional agent – God – at the helm. Evolutionarily novel ideas like atheism are more difficult to grasp, and thus positively correlated with higher intelligence (unless you’re merely signaling, something the study mentions). This explanation is itself fairly intuitive, to me at least, making me wonder if someone more intelligent than myself might run circles around my inferior intelligence with an explanation that either coincidentally coincides with the claims of those stupider than myself, or is entirely novel.

Some argue that liberals seem unable to grasp the lack of agency in economic matters, i.e. that they are believers in “economic creationism.” But economist Stephen Miller, writing in Critical Review (sorry, also gated, but ask me if you’d like it), shows that conservatives are more free-market oriented only relative to liberals.  With data drawn from the GSS over nearly a 20 year period, a majority of conservatives agreed positively with the idea of government subsidies for job creation (including “jobs programs”); the notion that business managers care not for what workers want or need (so much for incentives); and that government should control electricity prices, among other things.  I believe it was Edward Glaeser who claimed that opposition to the welfare state among conservatives was rooted in a sense of the state’s opposition (crowding out) of religious institutions.  Being for a free market is bound up in being anti-state in the American political discussion, and thus being pro-religion is a happenstance compliment to being pro-market.  It doesn’t come from conservatives being uniquely resistant to economic creationism, as the survey data suggests.

It’s understandable that economic creationism would stem from a similar mental space as creationism proper, but that for (more intelligent?) liberals the idea of substituting a body of regulators for God is fallacious because God is supposedly omnipresent and omnipotent, whereas regulators can glean from a body of social science the proper path to piecemeal engineering ala Karl Popper.  So no, economic creationism is not on par with the creationism, even if the impulse to believe in either is erroneous.

Hanson notes that the study shows increased intelligence correlated with both atheism and male sexual exclusivity. But the Inductivist gives survey evidence to the contrary, showing religious skeptics to be less faithful. Any dishonesty on the part of survey respondents presumably holds across both the study and the survey. If either group of researchers were to employ the use of lie detectors it’d be Kanazawa’s, but that didn’t happen.

Addendum: I’m editing an audio interview I did with Slavisa Tasic, contributor to the newest issue of Critical Review entitled “The Age of Uncertainty,” which I hope to have online soon. See the link for a description of his article.

An anonymous commenter claimed that the Defense Department has been a province of the State Department ever since Frank Carlucci replaced Caspar Weinberger. I hadn’t heard of the former, so I looked him up and found that he’s accused of involvement in the assassination of Patrice Lumumba. So I guess he can’t be all bad.

I remember trying to watch “Lumumba” the movie when Tyler Cowen linked to African Film Library. But they wanted me to pay for it, no thanks. Fortunately, some French Muslim communist[?] uploaded it here. To watch subsequent sections click the smaller video below and to the left.

Reading up on some of the history of decolonization in that period, I learned a few interesting things. For one, there were three Hungarians involved in the assassination attempt on Charles de Gaulle. For another, there were two different rebellions within the territory controlled by Japanese stooges the independent Indonesian Republic during the fight with Dutch forces. Not a completely unprecedented mixup, in 1927 China had three capitals. I haven’t heard much about the “Warlord era” there, and since Chiang Kai-shek revisionism is in vogue, I wonder if there’s a du Berrier to his Deng.

So says Robert Lindsay.

Elsewhere among lefties, mtraven promotes Samuel Bowles’ theory of “guard labor”. And in case you missed when I mentioned it a little while ago, Tomasz Wegrzanowski cites Charles Kenny to argue that communism is/was not bad for economic growth.

Adam Ozimek of Modeled Behavior recently chided John Stossel for assuming that the market can handle education. He pointed out that markets aren’t best for everything and gave the provision of security as an example. At an ordinary middle-brow blog I’d led that pass, but I demand better from those that can deliver. I dished out arguments about the remedial state and Bruce Benson’s economic analysis of the provision of law & order in hopes that he’d respond with something clever like Tyler Cowen’s network externalities argument against anarcho-capitalism or Peter Leeson’s against vertically integrated proprietary communities. Now those are people who have spent an unusual amount of time thinking about the issue, but someone as economically literate as Adam could have shot back with a less sculpted version of that type of argument. Instead his first response was rights-based and bereft of public choice (or “New Institutional” if you prefer) analysis, something one might expect from a Randian. It then occurred to me that Bryan Caplan has found a similar phenomena for healthcare. Perfectly intelligent economists will say that it’s so important that usual economic arguments go out the window. To someone who thinks markets are a fantastic way of delivering services, the importance of an industry would suggest all the more reason that it be provided by markets.

Some of this may be the result of being a bullet-biter prone to reductionism and economic imperialism. We ask “what’s so special about X that the usual analysis doesn’t apply”. Robin Hanson is particularly fond of that approach, not only for his specialty in healthcare economics but also asking here why we treat dating and employment differently. An argument for why one should not be a bullet-biter is here.

After James Scott’s “Seeing Like a State” and Jane Jacob’s “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” (which I admit I haven’t finished yet), I thought the natural follow up for a pluralist (but in some ways liberal at heart) attack on rationalism would be William Easterly’s “The White Man’s Burden”. I’m liking it so far, but some of the time I wish it were not so targeted to a popular audience (use jokes sparingly until you become a professional comedian, Prof. Easterly). I should also say that using a Capital Letters dichotomy for things you like/dislike sets off warning flags, even if I do think there is merit in his argument about Planners & Searchers.

I thought I should write a post on the book when I got to part 3, with the chapter “From Colonialism to Postmodern Imperialism”. There are a number of more important things to talk about, but a sentence that really stuck out to me was “Nor is the West the only source of imperial conquest – remember, say, the Aztecs, the Muslims, and the Mongols?”. Muslim is a religious designation, there is not a specific empire designated by “Muslim”. Wikipedia has a list of different empires which were of the Islamic religion. Also, the Incas would have probably been a better example than the Aztecs.

Easterly is best known these days as a critic of foreign aid, who now runs the Aid Watch blog. He’s unusual in that he sees it as a successor to the prior setup of colonialism which has continued many of the harmful relationships of decolonization. In that respect he sounds like Mencius Moldbug, with the difference being that Mencius actually approves of colonialism. Just as Paul Hewitt would be a better debate partner for Robin Hanson, I think Mencius would be better matched with Easterly. My estimation is that Easterly is of lower status than Paul Romer and also more willing to engage in an intellectual scrap, as evidenced by his arguments with Paul Collier and Jeff Sachs. A slight problem is that he’s based at NYU, a good distance from San Francisco.

You might think that of course Easterly opposes colonialism, everybody does, so he won’t have any good arguments prepared. To the contrary, I find that he does not merely assume its badness but sets out to provide evidence of it (primarily regarding economic growth, but other things as well) and even acknowledges where it resulted in improvements (just as he does for foreign aid). He doesn’t blame European intervention for everything and acknowledges some uncolonized areas left much to be desired, concluding “So absence of the White Man’s Burden did not ensure paradise. It just gave a better result on average than colonialism (and the better result is stastically distinguishable from colonies, despite the high variance of non-colonial outcomes).” Another study he brings up is one that I saved to my computer (before it crashed) because I thought it was so clever. He measured the squiggliness of borders to determine whether they were natural vs artificial and then found what outcomes correlated with relatively (straight-line) artificial borders.

The next chapter, which I haven’t read yet, discusses modern military intervention in failed states. You might think Uncle Sam monopolizes that shit-sandwich, but France apparently has been engaging in a good deal of it, mostly under the radar. If you don’t care about the third world but want more Easterly, note that he claims to have debunked Thomas Schelling’s model of neighborhood segregation, which Tim Harford likes so much.

Finally, on a vaguely related note, Tomasz Wegrzanowski cites Charles Kenny to argue that, despite its human cost, communism does not seem to be that bad for economic growth. I emailed Bryan Caplan since he created the online Museum of Communism and participated recently in a debate on Samuelson & Soviet convergence. He hasn’t responded yet, which could just mean my message was flagged as spam (which happened once to something Robin Hanson sent me). I hope posting it here will get Caplan to give his opinion on Kenny’s argument.

Matthew Yglesias and Glenn Loury had a diavlog on Israel & the Congressional Black Caucus. Glenn brought up a paper he wrote back in the 80s when he was a neoconservative, Self-Censorship in Public Discourse: A Theory of “Political Correctness” and Related Phenomena. I’m still reading through it as I write, but seems like good stuff. Hopefully Anonymous would like it, it references Erving Goffman early on and uses a framework inspired by him.

Stale, I guess. Anyway, thanks to Leon Wieseltier’s egomania (Samantha Power rules the world indeed!), I came across this, which touches on both Tiananmen and Tibet. Kudos to Weiss for an admission against interest, though such tensions were glaringly obvious to me a while back.

Flynt Leverett briefly touched on Nixon’s halt of CIA activity in Tibet during his diavlog with Barbara Slavin, though it was mostly about Iran. A commenter referred to him as an “over the top realist”, which is the kind of insult you can hang on your wall. As I said there, I think the Leveretts have made fairly accurate predictions regarding Iran, but they are disliked because people don’t want to hear the truth.

UPDATE: For a while I’ve been asking for a good history of the Iranian Revolution. A bloggingheads reader recommends The Making of Iran’s Islamic Revolution by Mohsen Milani. If you’ve read it, tell us what you thought. If you haven’t and are interested in the subject, consider checking it out.

Plenty of annoying skinny (including me!) or even not-skinny people have snarked about their “physics diet“: energy out matches energy in. Perhaps a bad way of thinking about the issue, at least if you believe Robert Lustig. The hormones insulin and leptin regulate weight, and are responsible for both energy efficiency (you might be surprised by rest energy expenditure) and feelings of satiation vs hunger. In obese people, insulin suppresses the effect of leptin to ensure increased energy intake & retention (conversely, by suppressing insulin in the obese the weight “plateau” from the starvation response is avoided). Why did we evolve that? Lustig hypothesizes that in puberty & pregnancy such an effect is desirable. Hat-tip to Modeled Behavior, who probably linked the study before without my bothering to read it.

Elsewhere (more specifically, at the Mises blog), an actual physicist (or at least aspiring physicist) sticks up for Austrian epistemology by attacking Milton Friedman’s “positive economics”. However, a number of commenters point out errors you really would not have expected a physicist not to make.

Finally, I can’t tie this into physics at all, but while looking for the previous link, I discovered that the creator of Sita Sings the Blues (which I think was nominated for an Oscar or something) is anti-copyright and made the movie freely available. I’m watching it right now, which is a much for gratifying experience than having my browser repeatedly crash trying to play the DivX for “McCabe & Mrs Miller”.

I had earlier referenced some claims that communism is good for your health. The Monkey Cage now informs me that one such study’s findings are not robust. You are advised to continue not living under communism. Also, as long as I’m talking about TMC, this is a funny cartoon. I particularly like the understated reaction from the Mauritanian President.

At Cafe Hayek, Don Boudreaux sent a letter to the editor in response to an obituary for Howard Zinn. Don accused Zinn of being inconsistent for having a low opinion of the government when it engaged in foreign policy but a high opinion for its domestic policies. I replied that Zinn was actually an anarchist and that Don had misrepresented him, presumably out of ignorance and assumptions about what a leftist must believe. I ended up having a long conversation with the commenter vidyohs, which I don’t feel like copying all of here. If I had been aware of Gary Chartier’s post on how libertarians should view Zinn, I would have linked to it when I engaged in that discussion.

I left a comment at Will Wilkinson’s that has been held up for review. Just the sort of thing which justifies having a blog of your own. Here is what it said:
Are those two mistakes created equal? Does the respect given to soldiers outweigh the murder they participate in?

Personally, I side with Steve Walt on the issue even though I see even less value in U.S primacy. I want the most competent possible (leaving aside comparative advantage) military even when it engages in pointless destruction. If the hapless foreigners we attack for no reason can be reduced to abject surrender before we waste more time in their countries, all the better. But to take a pluralist-over-rationalist perspective, I’d recommend it be implemented through delegation. Gays apparently are disproportionately found in some sectors of the military (medical, translators). The commanders of those units probably don’t like losing personnel, so they could elect to allow the practice, others complaining about how no pointy-headed liberal is going to be trying out social experiments in the goddamn military can continue with DADT, and the President would duck some political backlash. Everybody wins, except for moralists who hate compromise.

Will replied:
Right, it doesn’t matter to gays whether or not they are accorded equal status by the laws they live under. I suppose it doesn’t really matter to blacks or women either. That’s just something that bothers moralists who hate compromise.

I responded:
Women are currently not treated equally by the military. They are not eligible for the draft, and I believe are not placed in combat positions (except as aircraft pilots). The last person I recall complaining about that was Mel Feit, who is not a woman though he sometimes wears a dress. Blacks don’t have equal status under other laws: there are certain set-asides only they qualify for. I don’t think many are too upset by that, so divergence from equality per se doesn’t do it.

Another opportunity for de facto integration amidst du jure discrimination: I recall hearing that the majority of people kicked out under DADT were actually women. Assuming that’s true, then if the rule was specified to only apply to men, conservatives could retain their officially fairie-free man’s zone while avoiding most of the actual effects of the rule. My guess is also that there’s more animus to gay men than women broadly speaking and that women are more interested in marriage, so we could also allow gay marriage for women only.

Gavin McInness, founder of the hipster Vice magazine and cultural magnate for the young(ish) hedonist with disposable income and loads of unfocused, low brow creative energy, also writes for Taki’s Mag. His newest piece is “The Problem With Hipster Porn,” and it assaults the somewhat trendy phenomenon of perfectly college bound (and gagged!) young women and their fascination with porn, to the point of starring in one. The thrust – no pun – of his article is that these female youngsters are getting the wrong idea about pornography. It’s about abused and damaged women with little else to help pay the bills, not Girl Power. McInness suggests the blowback for these weekend warriors of porn (though some are full-time, like Dana DeArmond) may come in the form of a jaundiced attitude toward men and a future as a lonely Cougar, as evidenced by his experience living with some punk chicks in his twenties who made a living as phone sex operators.

At one point he illustrates the difference between “real” porn and hipster porn by saying that real porn pays. $1,500 vs. $100, damaged girls vs. normal girls respectively. I doubt these figures are completely accurate, but more or less a ballpark figure.  This raises the question: If these hipster porn chicks are really the nice-girl-next-door types (at least compared to the mainstream of the porn industry) with an urge to slum it, why wouldn’t they command far more in monetary compensation than the damaged goods with little else to offer? Is it because the latter “do more stuff”? Is this a market failure?