I’m fairly sure I heard about the movie “The Pentagon Wars” from EconLog, and more specifically with a link to this clip (featuring possibly the worst case of feature bloat and meddling in history), but for some reason I can’t find the original post. At any rate, it’s a fine example for the underserved genre of movies about bureaucracy. There’s no war for the officers to fight, so it’s just a matter of whether the misbegotten M2 Bradley fighting vehicle can be cranked out so those behind it get promoted, with one stubborn non-team player Congressional appointee using every rule in the (literal) book he can to stop it. That man is of course the hero, and as in real life he wins the “battle” to put the crapware back on the drawing board, but the movie explicitly ends by noting that the villains knowingly pushing the defective vehicle forward without adequate testing got promoted or jobs in the defense industry, while Colonel James Burton was forced into early retirement. “This is why we can’t have nice things” the movie. And it’s a hilarious movie, supposedly true, though in the course of writing this post I reread the Wikipedia page and found some new material debunking one of the most damning bits (about exporting the vehicle). Their cited source doesn’t actually say anything about export, but it does have a military historian saying it was very inaccurate (though it did indeed have a “development hell” and lousy testing). I was set to discuss whether the empirical results of Burton’s long-sought test even mattered, since the Israelis deduced it as defective from the designs, but as mentioned that bit may have been invented by the film-makers.

Since “The Americans” has put SecDef Caspar Weinberger back in mind, I thought I’d mention a bit where he’s meeting the officers in charge and angry about leaks in the Washington Post about the weapons program. The officers pipe up that they’ll clamp down any leaks, and Weinberger responds that leaks to the press are the only way he gets any information!

I’m going to begin on a completely unrelated note by mentioning that a book I requested at the library recently became ready for pickup. Listed as being there when I ordered it, it has since been listed as “In Transit” for about two months. Now I feel slightly guilty that I’m not going to pick it up, because some time after I originally ordered it I picked up a rather lengthy book from a university library from when I temporarily had privileges, and hence won’t be able to review. I’ve been holding off on that in part because I’ve procrastinated so much when it comes to writing this review.

I forget where exactly I heard of Brad Spellberg’s “Rising Plague”. Megan McArdle seems most likely, since she occasionally references increasing antibiotic resistance. It seems like an important problem about which little is done, so good thing there’s a book about it. Unfortunately I can’t give a hearty recommendation while at the same time that’s not because of some objective flaws. I didn’t care much for his writing, which makes some sense since he’s a doctor rather pop-science writer (although both Oliver Sachs and Michael Crichton have a background in practicing medicine). Sometimes I was irked at how much it was aimed at a broad audience with its emotional anecdotes illustrating the need for action (he’s quite explicit about soliciting and collecting them for that purpose) rather than mere statistics, but clearly pleasing me was not his primary goal. (more…)

Obese Folks Should be Shamed, Says Expert

Does Obama and Co. Represent the ‘New Power Class’?

Liberals Are Anti-Science Too

West Point Warns of Danger From ‘Violent Far Right’

Republicans Are Dog Lovers, Democrats Are Cat People

Study: Obese Women More Likely to be Assumed Guilty

Teens Who Receive Mental Health Treatment More Likely to Attempt Suicide

America’s Hunters Are Older, Male and Make a Good Living

I’ve mentioned earlier the study involving sending MBAs to India, and the common denigration they receive in our culture. This isn’t a mere matter of counter-cultural hostility to capitalism and business, since their subordinates “in the trenches” often feel they have more domain knowledge* while their ignorant Dilbert-esque “pointy-haired” bosses screw things up. The founders of Google apparently shared that view, at least before their empiricist side led them to realize that was a mistake.
*There is a contrary view where the primary added value of management is the skills they impart to their subordinates, and I may have linked to a study on that but can’t find it now.

There might seem to be a bit of a contrast between this post and the one on “The Collapse of Complex Society” and its section on the wasteful growth of administration. I believe that to be a very real phenomena (particularly outside the for-profit sector), just as I can believe that firefighters provide a valuable service even if there are too many of them.

I had planned on having a more substantive post by last night, but I keep procrastinating rather than working on it. All are encouraged to berate.

UPDATE: More from Slate on the scope for managerial improvement in other countries.

I’ve seen Joseph Tainter’s “The Collapse of Complex Societies” recommended in a few different places. Jared Diamond’s book might be one of them, the guest-posts of Captain David Ryan aka “Tony Comstock” for James Fallows at the Atlantic might be another. The sidebar of John Robb’s “Global Guerrillas” blog is the only one I remember with certainty. It’s a not a very long book, and you can get the gist of it from Tainter’s wikipedia page. (more…)

Study: Single-Sex Schools Push Girls to Pursue Math & Science

California’s Jobless Turning Down Plentiful Farm Work

Will Gun Control Help Republicans Woo Latinos?

Does ‘White Male Privilege’ Explain the Sandy Hook Shootings?

Why Do Republicans Start Saving Money Earlier?

Rural America Becoming ‘Less and Less Relevant’ Says Ag. Secretary

Men More in Favor of Pot Legalization Than Women

The Urban-Rural Voter Gap is Growing

A couple weeks back Dominic Preston emailed me about this, but I’ve been busy and my internet connection has been too sporadic to deal well with streaming video. I assumed others would remark on this, but I haven’t read anyone else do so yet.

Apologies for the infrequent posts as of late. There’s a book review I should be writing, but the quarterly schedule of a university library takes the pressure of. And conversely, the hold someone placed on a book I had due today at a public library means I have to start a new book without finishing the old one.

Iowa First in the Nation in Graduation Rates

Americans Are Wrong to Be Pessimistic

Red States Have More Fatal Car Crashes Than Blue States 

Top Economist: America, Welcome to Europe

Austin, Texas to Secede From Texas if Texas Secedes From US

DARE Drops Marijuana From Anti-Drug Message

Making Stuff Harder to Read Helps Open Political Minds

Talk Radio Host Urges Gay Romney Supporter to Kill Himself

Reinhardt & Rogoff’s book is an impressive achievement, though hard for a layman reader like me to appreciate. The most significant thing about it is how many countries are covered and over how much time in their dataset, but I’m just reading a book rather than crunching numbers. The thesis that crises of various sorts (external & domestic sovereign debt, banking, hyperinflation, relative currency crash) have happened many times throughout history is well supported. But if you were to ask whether people were irrationally sanguine about such a prospect (perhaps like Taleb on tail-risk), I don’t really know whether their data can say. Perhaps they could have tried to analyze the expected return of certain assets over all that history, bring up equity premium puzzle. But the authors go for re-iterating the message that it CAN happen rather than trying to establish how likely it is. There is a useful empirical finding that developed countries can “graduate” from serial default and very high inflation. There does not seem to be a process of “graduation” from banking crises. On the other hand, the historical summary of banking crises in the final subject appendix can range from relatively detailed descriptions of failures & takeovers to the repeated boilerplate “Some banks experienced problems”. In the absence of reliable quantitative indicators they mark a banking crisis with “(1) bank runs that lead to the closure, merging, or takeover by the public sector of one or more financial institutions […] and (2) if there are no runs, the closure, merging, takeover, or large-scale government assistance of an important financial institution (or group of institutions) that marks the start of a string of similar outcomes for other financial institutions”, so I have to assume something of that sort happened in the vaguer crises. The question of how we should define and categorize crises has become a recent dispute between the authors and Bordo & Haubrich (plus John Taylor). Unfortunately, there is nothing in this book that says what it makes sense to do after a crisis, although there’s no statement of a policy-ineffectiveness proposition either. One thing I will say in response to John Cochrane on financial crises causing sovereign debt crises: R&R state that this is largely caused by reduced revenues. So obviously the problematic policy is pro-cyclical progressive taxation!

Obama on Ayn Rand: Teens Like Her, But They’ll Grow Out of It

Police Not Expecting Riots on Election Day

50 Claims of Grey: Why Fact-Checking Gives No Easy Answers

Is Election-Year Politics Killing Friendships on Facebook?

Porn Industry Prefers Obama to Romney

Manufacturing Jobs Aren’t ‘Cool’ Enough for Kids Today

Male and Female Economists Disagree on the Role of Government

Democrats and Republicans Saying ‘I Don’t’ to Each Other

Lise Eliot’s “Pink Brain, Blue Brain” is the most cited work among those arguing against “gender essentialism”, or at least that’s my impression. The most telling argument in favor of gender essentialism is the outcomes of children like David Reimer aka “John/Joan” raised as female after having their genitals removed at a young age. I had heard that Eliot addresses the Reimer case, but hadn’t really investigated further. It turns out the section of her book dealing with it is available through Google Books. Eliot finds the case problematic as illustration of a general principle because the surgery that completely removed his testicles took place too late at twenty-two months (although his parents had already started raising him as a girl at seventeen months), and he had an indentical twin brother raised together with him. To me having an identical twin raised by the same parents but treated as a boy is great for illustrative purposes (and Dr. John Money who publicized David as “Joan” agreed). And if we’re just focused on psychological effects, the age seems reasonable to me in finding the effects of parents raising their child to be a girl*. Admittedly, I am nothing like an expert, David & his brother just didn’t seem to have any conscious memory of him previously being a boy.

The best piece of evidence Eliot has to counter the Reimer case is another (unnamed in her book) case reported in 1998 of a boy who also lost his penis in a botched circumcision and was surgically reassigned at seven months. This one continued to identify as a normal woman. I find her citation of a 2005 review by Heinz Meyer-Bahlburg (finding that only seventeen of seventy-seven boys raised as girls for a variety of reasons reverted to females) less persuasive, because as she notes only a minority were cases of “penile ablution”, with most being intersex. This is important, because Money critic Milton Diamond (cited in Colapinto’s linked article above) had started out complaining that all the “successful” cases cited by the Money camp thus suffered a “genetic or hormonal imbalance in the womb”. Since Diamond’s focus was on pre-natal hormonal exposure, his theory would then be falsifiable with an experiment varying the age of post-natal reassignment, even if the change was purely “biological” rather than psychological.
*Interestingly, Eliot’s footnote states that none of the genetic boys raised as males later reverted to female. Her recommendation if you have an intersex child is to raise them as male “if the urogenital system can be adequately reconstructed through surgery”.

I don’t write this to attack Eliot, I find it commendable that she not only addressed Reimer but pointed out the problem with using reassigned intersex children rather than those purely biologically male/female. She is also no strawman (straw-woman?) who claims babies start out identical. Instead the title of her book refers to the small differences at early ages becoming magnified later on. This in itself doesn’t mean much to me because the heritability of many traits increase with age (and puberty obviously plays a role in gender differentiation over time). Judith Harris pointed out in “The Nurture Assumption” that many correlations based on parental treatment are misleading because parents treat children differently as a result of the child’s (heritable) traits. This is just what Eliot believes, although actually untangling the treatment effect of such a feedback loop sounds tricky to me. Unfortunately we don’t allow scientists to give children to robots to raise, completely unaware of the child’s actual gender. It would make for a great sitcom.

I read Robert Crew’s “For Prophet and Tsar” because it was recommended by Razib. As a westerner, the histories of Russia and Islam are unfamiliar to me, that of Islam in the Russian empire even moreso. Unfortunately the book had more information about Russian Islam than I cared to know and was trying to push an optimistic narrative (for politically correct modern times) that I didn’t quite buy. The interesting thing about the Russian empire is that it was a Christian state with Muslim subjects for a much longer period than any other. Unfortunately, the book really only covers the period starting with Catherine the Great’s edict of toleration, several centuries after Muslim subjugation began and not really any earlier than the British & French experience (although with the loss of its Indian territories, I believe France went through an intermission without Muslims). Crews is setting out to argue against Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” by pointing out that a period of cooperation once existed, but Huntington was explicit that civilizational salience was a change from prior divisions by ideologies, nation-states, kingdoms & empires. Crews repeatedly takes care to suggest that Russian state authorities need to treat Muslim subjects well so that new Muslim territories would surrender to them, but the impression I tended to get was that Russian officials treated complaints from Muslim authorities (including ones they had put in power) with indifference at best and expressions of annoyance more often. Near the end he draws a parallel to modern cultivation by European governments of “moderate” Muslims, but imperialists had a different attitude about things. It is true that Slavophiles complaining about the existence of Muslims and demanding they all be converted to Orthodoxy didn’t get their way, but they often seemed to be taken more seriously than Muslims. (more…)

Transgender 3rd-Grader Officially Acknowledged by School

Republican Women More Ladylike Than Democratic Women

25% of Twenty-Somethings Live With Their Parents

Only 13% of Working Class Whites Dig the Tea Party

‘Toy Story’ Songwriter Releases ‘I’m Dreaming…of a White President’

Santorum: ‘We Will Never Have the Smart People On Our Side’

Are Climate Skeptics More Likely to Be Conspiracy Theorists?

Have a Job? You’re Middle Class

I’d been planning on reading Elinor Ostrom for a while, possibly (though less than probably) before she and Oliver Williamson won the econ Nobel (there not being a poli-sci fauxbel, it was a decent enough fit). Peter Boettke had been writing about her and the “Bloomington School”, but it seemed best to go to the source. A lot of the work she’s known for centers on common pool resources, so “Governing the Commons” seemed the best single text to go for.

I’d first like to get out of the way the canard that Ostrom somehow debunks Garett Hardin’s “tragedy of the commons” or shows it to be a non-issue. She regards it as one possible outcome, and some of the examples in the book are of people that failed to prevent it from happening. Her complaint is that policymakers jump to assume firstly that it will happen if they don’t intervene, and secondly that their intervention will fix things. The people on the ground who actually use the resource often notice the problem and come up with systems that they have the capability of carrying out (for the most part) for themselves, and outsiders intervening sometimes makes things worse. One of my links earlier suggested that Ostrom is arguing for anarchy, and anarchists can certainly rely on some of her arguments, but that would not be an accurate representation of her position. The beneficiaries of common pool resources often make use of government resources (as in her first study, California water basin management), but they can also achieve government backing and still fail (as with some of those very basins). (more…)

Americans on the Rich: Smart, Yes, But Greedy Too

Kids Against ‘Crony Capitalism’

Do Academics Have a Liberal Bias?

Drive-Thru Politics: Fast Food Preferences and Political Leanings

FBI’s Most Wanted Domestic Terrorists List Dominated By Women

Americans on the TSA: Not Bad, Not Bad At All

Democratic and Republican ‘Megadonors’ – Who Gives the Most?

‘Run. Hide. Fight.’ Houston PSA Recreates Mass Shooting 


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 36 other followers