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Archive for February, 2012

One in seven Americans now receives food stamps. Leftist politicians rage about inequality. The media trumpets that almost half the country is “poor or near poor.” And yet the average “poor” family has a car, two color TVs, cable or satellite TV, a VCR, a DVD player, air conditioning, and a cell phone, in addition to a washer and dryer, refrigerator, stove, and microwave. That suggests that poverty, as the government is now defining it, has little to do with poverty as most people think of it. I decided to look at various American cities to see what kind of house someone at the poverty level could afford to buy or rent. First stop: my home town, Pittsburgh.

Ground rules: These are houses that a family earning $22,000 could afford to buy with a fixed-rate 30-year mortgage, given the traditional metric that no more than 28% of income go toward a house payment. People who are willing to gamble on ARMs could do even better.

In Pittsburgh, such a hypothetical family would have about 500 homes to choose from, most in excellent neighborhoods. Here’s a selection. All of these are in pleasant neighborhoods, have large rooms, and  are more spacious than the house I lived in as a child. All have interior photographs showing them to be in first-rate condition. They are, frankly, gorgeous. I’d be more than happy to live in any of them.

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Robert Weissberg talks about the war against men on college campuses. Meanwhile Gail Heriot and Alison Somin write about discrimination against women in college admissions. Women already out number men 4-3 on college campuses; soon it will be 3-2. The statistics would be even more marked if one didn’t count the men we import to fill slots in engineering and the sciences.

There are many explanations, ranging from Title IX and the subsequent war on men’s athletics to a general war against boys in educational institutions at all levels and in society in general. There’s something to all these explanations. Courses in which there is open hostility to men or to traditional methods of inquiry are relatively rare, even in the humanities, and most are easily identified and avoided. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t have a significant impact. A college with a department of White Studies, an active KKK chapter, and a number of courses with openly racist content would be unlikely to attract black students even if the overwhelming majority of the courses at the school were perfectly OK.

I’m inclined to think the most significant factor has been the decision, at a variety of levels, to stress busywork over intelligence, and correspondingly to emphasize factors related to work habits (such as grades) and deemphasize factors related to IQ (such as SATs, GREs, etc.). There’s also been a shift toward verbal skills and away from mathematical skills. Richard Whitmire says the world has become more verbal, while men haven’t. I’d say that the world has become more mathematical, while the educational system hasn’t. He is surely right, however, that disastrous educational policies such as whole language approaches to reading have had disproportionate impact on men. But let’s not forget that there has also been admissions bias against men until very recently. There is still discrimination against men in graduate admissions and in faculty hiring.

It’s that last point I want to stress in this connection. There is massive pressure on academic departments to hire women. Women junior faculty members will get twice as many interviews, flybacks, and job offers as comparably qualified men, and can command starting salaries $10-20,000 higher. Faculties in the humanities and social sciences, which used to be predominantly male, are becoming balanced in the junior ranks, and will soon be balanced overall in most fields.

That’s a good thing, right? Well, maybe; it’s too soon to tell. Look at what’s happened with undergraduate admissions. At a certain point a critical mass will have been reached, and men will regard university teaching the way they now regard high school teaching—as something that is primarily for women. Fifty years ago elementary school teachers were mostly women, but high schools had many male faculty members, especially in the sciences, but in other fields as well. Now school teachers at all levels are predominantly women. I predict the same for university faculties. In fifty years, outside the hard sciences, there will be relatively few male faculty members.

That means a lot of high-IQ men who are willing to work hard will be doing something else. What? I have no idea. How will they be educated? I’m guessing they will constitute a significant market for online learning and other nontraditional paths, and will start their own businesses or otherwise free-lance. But university faculties, which in many areas are already dubious in contributing research value due to political correctness, are going to become even less a source of important ideas, and other kinds of organizations are going to benefit.

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Climate Fraud

Alec Rawls makes the case for omitted variable fraud in global climate change models. His lengthy article is worth your time. The general idea: There is massive and well-accepted evidence for the influence of solar activity on the earth’s climate.

For the 1750-2010 period examined, two variables correlate strongly with the observed warming (and hence with each other). Solar magnetic activity and atmospheric CO2 were both trending upwards over the period, and both stepped up to much higher levels over the second half of the 20th century. These two correlations with temperature change give rise to the two main competing theories of 20th century warming. Was it driven by rapidly increasing human release of CO2, or by the 80 year “grand maximum” of solar activity that began in the early 1920′s? (“Grand minima and maxima of solar activity: new observational constraints,” Usoskin et al. 2007.)

The empirical evidence in favor of the solar explanation is overwhelming. Dozens of peer-reviewed studies have found a very high degree of correlation (.5 to .8) between solar-magnetic activity and global temperature going back many thousands of years (Bond2001, Neff 2001, Shaviv 2003, Usoskin 2005, and many others listed below). In other words, solar activity “explains,” in the statistical sense, 50 to 80% of past temperature change.

So how can IPCC and other “global warming” models find that CO2 plays a large causal role? The IPCC assumes—that’s right, assumes—that CO2 is 40 times more significant than the sun is its effects on the earth’s climate. The models then omit crucial variables. They include one variable for solar activity, but standard models for studying the sun’s effects usually include at least three. In other words, scientists committed to supporting the global warming hypothesis deliberate omit variables known to be critical for understanding the sun’s effects. Their causal influence is thus randomly attributed to other factors.

It gets worse. Comprehensive models that include those missing factors do find a correlation between temperature and CO2—but with a significant time lag. In other words, the evidence is that temperature increases cause increases in CO2, not the other way around. There may be feedback effects from CO2 to temperature, but they are small in relation to the effects of the sun and the causal relation going in the other direction between temperature and CO2.

In contrast, records of CO2 and temperature reveal no discernable warming effect of CO2. There is a correlation between atmospheric CO2 and temperature, but with CO2 changes following temperature changes by an average of about 800 years (Caillon 2003), indicating that it is temperature change that is driving atmospheric CO2 change (as it should, since warming oceans are able to hold less CO2). This does not rule out the possibility that CO2 also drives temperature, and in theory a doubling of CO2 should cause about a 1 degree increase in temperature before any feedback effects are accounted, but feedbacks could be negative (dampening rather than amplifying temperature forcings), so there no reason, just from what we know about the greenhouse mechanism, that CO2 has to be a significant player. The one thing we can say is that whatever the warming effect of CO2, it is not detectable in the raw CO2 vs. temperature data.

Rawls’s conclusion is direct:

Nothing could be more perverse in such a circumstance than to unplug the modern world in a misbegotten jihad against CO2. The IPCC’s omitted variable fraud must stop. AR5′s misattribution of 20th century warming to CO2 must stop. The evidence overwhelmingly supports the solar-magnetic warming theory. The only support for the CO2 theory is the fact that models built on it can achieve a reasonable fit to the last couple centuries of temperature history, but that is only because CO2 is roughly correlated with solar activity over this period, while these models themselves are invalidated by their demonstrable omitted variable fraud. If warming is attributed to solar-magnetic effects at all in accordance with the evidence then the warming that is left to attribute to CO2 becomes utterly benign.

There is much more detail in Richard Lindzen’s presentation to the House of Commons a few days ago. That human activity is having some effect on climate is trivially true. The question is how great that effect is. The evidence indicates that it is relatively insignificant, and not at all of a scale to produce catastrophe.

But hey, I’m sure you don’t mind paying $5 a gallon for gasoline. The Obama administration is halfway to its stated goal of $8-$10 a gallon gasoline. Why do they want that? Global warming!

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1989 and All That

Janet Daley asks why the lessons of the fall of Communism haven’t been learned.

But in spite of the official agreement that there is no other way to organise the economic life of a free society than the present one (with a few tweaks), there are an awful lot of people implicitly behaving as if there were. Several political armies seem to be running on the assumption that there is still a viable contest between capitalism and Something Else.

If this were just the hard Left within a few trade unions and a fringe collection of Socialist Workers’ Party headbangers, it would not much matter. But the truth is that a good proportion of the population harbours a vague notion that there exists a whole other way of doing things that is inherently more benign and “fair” – in which nobody is hurt or disadvantaged – available for the choosing, if only politicians had the will or the generosity to embrace it.

Why do they believe this? Because the lesson that should have been absorbed at the tumultuous end of the last century never found its way into popular thinking – or even into the canon of educated political debate….

Indeed it hasn’t. This is behind not only the fatuity but the confusion of contemporary political debate. The conflict between the Republicans (or perhaps more accurately the Tea Party) and the Democrats in the United States is a contest between free-market capitalism (however imperfectly defined and defended) and —what, exactly? Just what is Obama’s ideology? Conservatives tend to think of him as a socialist, perhaps even as a fascist or Communist. But Leftists mock them for it. Well, what’s the right thing to say? ‘Progressive’? What’s that? How exactly is a progressive different from a socialist? They share a commitment to the conscious, centralized direction of social forces to consciously chosen ends, which makes them all socialists according to Hayek’s definition. But didn’t the failure of Communism show that such a project is doomed to failure? If not, don’t the ballooning deficits of Greece, Spain, Italy, France, and the United States show it now?

The fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of communism which followed it are hugely important to any proper understanding of the present world and of the contemporary political economy. Why is it that they have failed to be addressed with anything like their appropriate awesome significance, let alone found their place in the sixth-form curriculum?

Well, the answer to that is obvious: the Left managed to take over the educational systems in every Western country. Students learn that Hitler was a monster; they don’t learn the same about Stalin, even though he killed several times as many people.

The failure of communism should have been, after all, not just a turning point in geo-political power – the ending of the Cold War and the break-up of the Warsaw Pact – but in modern thinking about the state and its relationship to the economy, about collectivism vs individualism, and about public vs private power. Where was the discussion, the trenchant analysis, or the fundamental debate about how and why the collectivist solutions failed, which should have been so pervasive that it would have percolated down from the educated classes to the bright 18-year-olds? Fascism is so thoroughly (and, of course, rightly) repudiated that even the use of the word as a casual slur is considered slanderous, while communism, which enslaved more people for longer (and also committed mass murder), is regarded with almost sentimental condescension….

Good question. Being a Leftist today should be no more respectable than being a Nazi. Would Americans elect as president someone whose posters contained swastikas? Why then did we elect as President someone whose posters were in the style of Stalin’s social realism? Why were they considered “cool” rather than stomach-turning?

But in our everyday politics, we still seem to be unable to make up our minds about the moral superiority of the free market. We are still ambivalent about the value of competition, which remains a dirty word when applied, for example, to health care. We continue to long for some utopian formula that will rule out the possibility of inequalities of wealth, or even of social advantages such as intelligence and personal confidence.

Sadly, I fear the explanation is that human beings, as soon as life gets good, take good times for granted. The latter half of the nineteenth century saw an unprecedented expansion of prosperity, not just among the upper classes, but spread very broadly throughout society. For the first time since the Roman empire, the average person has a significant amount of disposable income and leisure time. Hunger, for those in advanced societies, had become a thing of the past. Why, at just that point, do we get the bitter iconoclasm of Nietzsche, the casual cynicism of Shaw, and the vicious belligerence of Lenin? Among the followers, idealism is surely one of the answers: Why can’t things be even better? But that’s not the attitudes of the leaders of these currents of thought. Nietzsche, Shaw, Lenin, and countless others were not inspired by some positive ideal. Their motivations were purely negative, purely destructive. Shaw honestly thought that anyone who tore down London and then sought to rebuild it could not help but come up with a result better than the status quo—a status quo which was, let me stress again, the best circumstance humanity had known in almost two thousand years.

The idea that no system – not even a totalitarian one – could ensure such a total eradication of “unfairness” without eliminating the distinguishing traits of individual human beings was one of the lessons learnt by the Soviet experiment. The attempt to abolish unfairness based on class was replaced by corruption and a new hierarchy based on party status.

This, of course, is precisely what we are seeing with the Obama administration. While he speaks of everyone being treated equally, everyone having the same chance in life, our society is moving from a meritocracy in which this is roughly already true to an order in which political influence and power replace merit as an organizing principle. The free market is being replaced by an essentially corrupt system of crony capitalism before our very eyes. And no one who knows the history of socialism in the twentieth century should be surprised by that. The central direction of social forces to consciously chosen ends requires a cadre of directors—people who choose those ends and do the directing. They end up being very expensive directors, choosing ends that promote their own wealth, influence, and power and paying themselves handsomely for their work. The fantasy that the people or their representatives will choose the ends and the general means of direction, delegating to agents the actual direction, is only a fantasy. The elite of the old order yield to, or in most cases just become, the “new class,” the nomenklatura who end up oppressing a downtrodden, impoverished public far more than the old elite were able to exploit and relatively wealthy and free citizenry.

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. Sometimes. But usually much worse.

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Thanks to RadioSentry for sending this to me!

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Progressive Nostalgia

Ed Driscoll writes about the paradox of the nostalgic progressive. Paul Krugman, Woody Allen, John Cleese—all look back to the days of their youths as a time when things were better. And, in some ways, they were. We should not let Krugman forget that his blessed 1950s were times when America was far less affluent than it is today; the middle class families he recalls with such fondness were lucky if they had one car, one bath, and children who didn’t have to share a bedroom. And the greater equality was largely a statistical artifact of people sheltering income from confiscatory tax rates. Still, there was a solidity, self-reliance, independence, and moral depth to our culture in those days that is now largely gone. Progressives destroyed that culture, intentionally, and now seem stunned that both the culture and the institutions and patterns of behavior they attacked have deteriorated into something far less healthy.

Progressive nostalgia sounds paradoxical. But actually I think it goes way back to the beginnings of the movement. Rousseau wrote longingly of the noble savages, all of whose needs were satisfied in the state of nature. Marx and Engels decried the bourgeoisie largely because of the change they brought about:

The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his “natural superiors”, and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous “cash payment”. It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom — Free Trade. In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.

The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honoured and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage labourers.

The bourgeoisie has torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and has reduced the family relation to a mere money relation.

Despite its pretensions, the Left has always been an enemy of the future as well as the present.

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Forgive Us Our Debts….

John Hinderaker posts some frightening graphs that should wake people up to the unimaginable scale of what President Obama is doing to the country. Within a decade debt per household will be around $200,000.

A child born today will face a debt burden of around $1.5 million—before he or she spends a dime.

 

UPDATE: Our per capita debt is now worse than that of Greece!

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From Me to Me

Steven Hayward sifts through a New York Times article to find some illuminating information:

That’s right; federal social spending is now up to more than $7000 per capita. That’s about $30000 for a family of four. And most of this money is being spent on people who are not poor. In fact the proportion spent on the poor has been declining:
Increasingly, federal spending on social programs goes to the middle class. The Times marvels that recipients aren’t always grateful; in fact they often resent the help and sympathize with the Tea Party. The Times never asks what justifies massive payments from the middle class to itself—or, often, payments from those less well-off (e.g., the young) to the more well-off (e.g., Social Security recipients). The result is a rapid growth in dependency on government:

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Bankruptcy Court

I have (justifiably!) blamed the Obama administration for the country’s fiscal problems. But one shouldn’t overlook the role of activist courts in placing huge financial burdens on states and localities. Steven Malanga tells the story of “The Court that Broke [New] Jersey.”

Lauded by proponents of “living” constitutions who urge courts to make policy instead of interpret the law as written, the New Jersey Supreme Court has profoundly transformed the Garden State by seizing control of school funding, hijacking zoning powers from towns and cities to increase subsidized housing, and nullifying taxpayer protections in the state constitution. Its undemocratic actions have blown apart the state’s finances and led to ill-conceived and ineffective policies. If you want to understand what rule by liberal judges looks like on the state level, you need only look at New Jersey, which is teetering on bankruptcy though it remains one of America’s wealthiest states.

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but of course they won’t be. A North Carolina preschooler wasn’t allowed to eat her lunch—a turkey and cheese sandwich, banana, potato chips, and apple juice—because it didn’t meet federal guidelines. Instead, she was given a school lunch, and ate chicken nuggets. Federal guidelines require that a lunch include one serving each of meat, dairy, and grain, and two of fruits and vegetables. Children’s lunches are checked for this, and, if they don’t measure up, kids are given cafeteria food, and the parents are charged for the cost.

Forgive me, but I can think of no other response: WTF?

In what world are chicken nuggets healthier than a turkey and cheese sandwich? Don’t the guidelines get something fundamental to nutrition wrong—namely that it’s not a meal-by-meal thing? (My lunch yesterday: ten $.50 chicken wings (meat—check), four $1 beers (grain—check), a few celery chunks (vegetable—check). No dairy, no fruit—call the feds!) Just how do you pack a lunch with meat and dairy that doesn’t have to be refrigerated, except by packing such a sandwich? Why is meat required? What about vegetarian students? What about kids with allergies to dairy or grain products?

But most important of all: what business is this of the government? Why on earth are they checking student lunches in the first place?

The cafeteria worker should be fired over this, yes. So should the principal. And so should the person ultimately responsible for these federal guidelines—Barack Obama.

UPDATE: She’s not alone—another mother says the same thing happened to her daughter. And apparently the Food Nazis are one thing we actually got out of the trillion-dollar stimulus package!

FURTHER UPDATE: Lunch-in! February 23 at noon. “Concerned parents and their supporters will be having a “lunch-in” on Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C. at noon on Thursday, February 23 to protest federal school nutrition guidelines that allegedly forced at least one student to forgo her mother’s home-packed lunch in favor of chicken nuggets.”

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