Philosophy

Contracting:

America, China, Hong Kong, Russia, Ukraine, Austria, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Turkey, Syria, Libya, Iraq, Yemen, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Philippines, Venezuela, Nigeria, South Africa, Malaysia, and Brazil, though the latter may be in flux.  Tunisia and Iran are problematic, but arguably hard to call.  Saudi may be headed toward collapse, but I don’t think you can say they are less free just yet.  Ethiopia is losing more political freedom, though still making very real economic progress.

Advancing:

Mexico and Colombia, if only by consolidating previous gains, and still there is a chance of a turnaround in Argentina at some point.  Latvia?  Where else?  You could make a (modest) case for India and some of the smaller African countries.

Neutral:

Japan, South Korea, Canada, and much of Western Europe though many of these cases appear fragile to me.

Overall this is not a thrilling ledger.  I haven’t listed most of the smaller countries, but in the longer run they often follow the lead of their larger neighbors.

File under Not Good.

One strategy I sometimes recommend to people is that early in their career they live in the place where their industry is headquartered. Bay Area for tech, New York for finance and publishing, LA for movies, Michigan for furniture and cars, Nashville for country music, etc. Soak up everyone’s expertise. Study. Learn. Even if you don’t want to start the next Google, you’ll learn a lot by way of “network intelligence” from physically living in Silicon Valley. But feel free to leave and join a lower-cost-of-living secondary market if and when you begin to feel perpetually not-quite-good-enough. This doesn’t mean moving to the boonies, but to a place where there’s plenty of industry activity but less happiness-hurting status jostling.

Here is more from Ben Casnocha.  Here is an email I wrote to Ben about related themes:

Talk, though, I think is in this case deceiving.

Take non-billionaires.  They (like billionaires) gossip an enormous amount.  Yet it is still ultimately a self-centered activity.  It is a way of processing the self. I am not saying there is *no* concern for other people involved, but talking about other people is very often mainly a way of talking about the self.

Now, if one billionaire says “isn’t XXXX a bigger billionaire than I am?,” I think this is often somewhat similar.  It is still a way of consuming being a billionaire.

It’s a bit like how people enjoy complaining.  When people complain about events on their vacation, that is very often (not always!) their mode of enjoying.

It’s as if being a billionaire isn’t real until you complain about it, and compare yourself to the others.  Think of “manufacturing vividness” as what is going on here, in the ultimate anthropological sense, more than just mere status games.

Hi from Hunan!

I agree that status is addictive, but I do not in general think of it as zero-sum.

Donald Trump may get the nuclear suitcase, a cranky “park bench” socialist took Hillary Clinton to the wire, many countries are becoming less free, and the neo-Nazi party came very close to assuming power in Austria.  I could list more such events.

Haven’t you, like I, wondered what is up?  What the hell is going on?

I don’t know, but let me tell you my (highly uncertain) default hypothesis.  I don’t see decisive evidence for it, but it is a kind of “first blast” attempt to fit the basic facts while remaining within the realm of reason.

The contemporary world is not very well built for a large chunk of males.  The nature of current service jobs, coddled class time and homework-intensive schooling, a feminized culture allergic to most forms of violence, post-feminist gender relations, and egalitarian semi-cosmopolitanism just don’t sit well with many…what shall I call them?  Brutes?

Quite simply, there are many people who don’t like it when the world becomes nicer.  They do less well with nice.  And they respond by in turn behaving less nicely, if only in their voting behavior and perhaps their internet harassment as well.

Female median wages have been rising pretty consistently, but the male median wage, at least as measured, was higher back in 1969 than it is today (admittedly the deflator probably is off, but even that such a measure is possible speaks volumes).  A lot of men did better psychologically and maybe also economically in a world where America had a greater number of tough manufacturing jobs.  They thrived under brutish conditions, including a military draft to crack some of their heads into line.

To borrow a phrasing from Peter Thiel, perhaps men did better in the age of “technological progress without globalization” rather than “globalization without technological progress,” as has been the case as of late.

Here’s a line from Martin Wolf:

Princeton professors Anne Case and Angus Deaton note, in addition, a sharp relative deterioration in mortality and morbidity among middle-aged white American men, due to suicide, and drug and alcohol abuse.

(Addendum: note this correction.)

For American men ages 18-34, more of them live with their parents than with romantic partners.

Trump’s support is overwhelming male, his modes are extremely male, no one talks about the “Bernie sisters,” and male voters also supported the Austrian neo-Nazi party by a clear majority.  Aren’t (some) men the basic problem here?  And if you think, as I do, that the incidence of rape is fairly high, perhaps this shouldn’t surprise you.

The sad news is that making the world nicer yet won’t necessarily solve this problem.  It might even make it worse.

Again, we don’t know this is true.  But it does help explain that men seem to be leading this “populist” charge, and that these bizarre reactions are occurring across a number of countries, not just one or two.  It also avoids the weaknesses of purely economic explanations, because right now the labor market in America just isn’t that terrible.  Nor did the bad economic times of the late 1970s occasion a similar counter-reaction.

One response would be to double down on feminizing the men, as arguably some of the Nordic countries have done.  But America may be too big and diverse for that really to stick.  Another option would be to bring back some of the older, more masculine world in a relatively harmless manner, the proverbial sop to Cerberus.  But how to do that?  That world went away for some good reasons.

If this is indeed the problem, our culture is remarkably ill-suited to talking about it.  It is hard for us to admit that “all good things” can be bad for anyone, including brutes.  It is hard to talk about what we might have to do to accommodate brutes, and that more niceness isn’t always a cure.  And it is hard to admit that history might not be so progressive after all.

What percentage of men are brutes anyway?  Let’s hope we don’t find out.

In the Empire of Amerigo there is heated debate about the priorities of the polity.

The Egalitarians push for much higher military spending, on the grounds that many poor people around the world require Empire protection from aggressors or at the very least from severe external pressure.  The Egalitarians have a subcult, called The Samanthas, who favor direct military intervention in very destructive civil wars.  They are willing to cut domestic spending on social services to achieve this end, even though their founder did not draw this exact same conclusion.

The opposing party The Three-Percenters favors much higher social spending to the nation’s less fortunate citizens, who are for the most part within the global top three percent.  The Three-Percenters are an openly elitist party, and they emphasize how place of birth determines an individual’s moral worth, Amerigo coming first of course with no prize for second place.

The Egalitarians have been pushing hard for affirmative action.  It turns out that no one on the country’s Supreme Council has a military background, and they believe this should be rectified by an explicit system of quota.  Furthermore only a few members of the legislature ever have killed another human being in service of their country.  So the military point of view, as would be required to implement true egalitarian social justice, is badly underrepresented in the upper tiers of government and society.

After the great wage equalization of 2104, it became the common view that willingness to die and more importantly the willingness to kill for one’s country — or not — was the most fundamental remaining difference among citizens of Amerigo.  The self-proclaimed Proud Killer Faction earns some of the lowest wages in the country, yet they continue to push for greater recognition at the federal level, realizing it is not enough to control several state governments.

So far the Three-Percenters have the more popular view, because after all humans are naturally elitist and clubbish, and so their coalition rule has remained unchallenged for several terms of government.  Yet virtually all philosophers and academics back The Egalitarians, with some radicals even endorsing the Proud Killer Faction.

Addendum: There is another, now-vanquished faction of The Egalitarians, called The Medicoors.  They argue the strange and indeed untenable view that those on the verge of death have almost infinitely less than anyone else, even the very poor, and so a true egalitarianism means everything should be redistributed their way to prolong their lives, even if only for a short period of time.  They ruled the government for almost a century.  At first they were mocked for the doctrine of being “Forward Lookers,” and then finally they were defeated by the success of their own efforts.  Medical technology raised life expectancy to three hundred years of age, thereby inducing voters to think of themselves as nearly eternal, at least for the time being.  Some seers have predicted that eventually the Medicoors will make a major political comeback…

A study published (paywall) today (May 16) in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences indicates that when we act unethically, we’re more likely to remember these actions less clearly. Researchers from Northwestern University and Harvard University coined the term “unethical amnesia” to describe this phenomenon, which they believe stems from the fact that memories of ourselves acting in ways we shouldn’t are uncomfortable.

“Unethical amnesia is driven by the desire to lower one’s distress that comes from acting unethically and to maintain a positive self-image as a moral individual,” the authors write in the paper.

To investigate, Maryam Kouchaki, a behavioral research specialist at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and her colleague Francesca Gino at Harvard Business School conducted nine separate studies with over 2,100 participants. Over the course of their work, they found that people remember the times they acted ethically, like playing a game fairly, more clearly than the times they probably cheated.

“We speculated…that people are limiting the retrieval of memories that threaten their moral self-concept and that is the reason we see pervasive ordinary unethical behaviors,” Kouchaki wrote in an email.

Here is the full story.

A longtime faithful MR reader sends me this:

Here’s a question I seem to recall you asking before (What? Me search?) but could probably use an update…What are the phrases which allow you to stop reading, safe in the knowledge that you won’t learn anything?  My classic examples are “bankster” and “feminazi,” which were great when they were current because they normally appeared so quickly in any given argument. But they’re both a little dated now, so while they’re still accurate, their base rates are too low to be really useful.

My current favorites are “Drumpf” and “media bias,” the latter being particularly strong since it negates both Trump AND Sanders adherents. I’m also fond of “obstructionist” but you usually have to read a ways to get to it. Anything that suggests that any officeholder or candidate is unintelligent works great, but there’s no catchphrase, and “stupid” can appear with enough honest referents that it doesn’t work on it’s own. (I’m tempted to add “prior_approval,” but that’s cheating.)
Thoughts? (Or those of your readers if you’re inclined to ask.)

A few points:

1. Simple lack of content is by far the number one reason why I simply “stop reading,” not objectionable catchphrases.

2. Perhaps more arrogantly, I like to think my pre-selection filters already keep me away from such cases, or they have indicated to me I have some reason for reading on nonetheless.

3. As of late I have found the word “extreme” to be a special turn-off, at least in the context of politics.  Better to just sub in the phrase “I feel it has to be wrong but I am not going to tell you why, so I’ll just snobbily hint at its inappropriateness, while simultaneously and falsely pretending to have a connection to what is commonly thought.”

I also am not keen on reading the two words “Main Street,” unless it is a biography of Sinclair Lewis, or perhaps something actually did happen on Main Street somewhere.  Even then I wonder.  Nonetheless my favorite Afghan restaurant — with halal fish and chips by the way — is on…Main Street, Fairfax.

Your thoughts?  What do the bankster feminazis out there have to say on this?

The idea of a general confusion about the nature of capitalism and what its alternatives really look like was revisited later on by Tyler Cowen.

“I would focus most of all on the issue of ideas,” he said. “Do the people of this country still believe in capitalism? And I know that if you listen to Bernie Sanders, or look at some polls, a lot of young people have more sympathy for what they call ‘socialism’ than ever before, but I don’t think they mean real socialism. If you ask Americans questions such as ‘Do you support trade?’ the answers are more positive today than they were five years ago. …So if you look at a lot of basic issues of tolerance, belief in the system, people accepting consumerism, heralding innovation, I think, mostly, people here believe in capitalism.

Here is the full report, also including John Taylor and Alan Krueger and others.  Here is Fortune’s take on me on Trump and Sanders.  They caught me on an optimistic day.  Here is the video link for the whole session.

If you’re ever invited to the Milken Institute Los Angeles conference, I recommend it highly.  They have about the highest quality presentations and presenters I can recall hearing in a long time, maybe ever.  One reason for this is simply that they do not let people go on for too long.

I will be doing a Conversation with Tyler with him, June 15, late afternoon, Washington D.C., location to be announced.

So what should I ask?  I already know which is his favorite novel…and plan to ask about that…and of course we will cover his new forthcoming book The World According to Star Wars.

I very much like this book, it is one of my favorites of the year so far.  It resists being excerpted, as it is an old-style think piece in the style of Montaigne, or for that matter Robert Burton.  Every page is idea-rich and should be read carefully and slowly, and that is rare these days.  Here is just one bit:

Melancholics are prominent…precisely because they are too full of life; because of them, existence overflows itself.  This explains their unappeasable sense of absence: since they have left the world of moderation, overflowing is inconceivable without being emptied.  The universe is damaged in their person; hence, melancholics’ sense of being among the elect, but also their self-hatred to the point of self-annihilation.  That makes them strong and outstanding, but also exceedingly frail.  Their strength is infinite, because they have gained knowledge of the end, but they are unhappy, since having experienced the ephemeral nature of humans, they have lost their trust in existence.  Their strength and frailty, their unhappiness and their heroism, cannot be detached from each other.  This leads us back once again to the starting point of our argument, to the Aristotelian question “Why is it that all those who have become eminent in philosophy or politics or poetry or the arts are clearly melancholic?”

Definitely recommended.

What drives you?

by on April 28, 2016 at 2:26 am in Economics, Philosophy | Permalink

In fact, over the years, Mr. Gross has consistently asked one question of prospective employees: What drives you?

The twist is that they must pick one of three answers: money, power or fame.

Strangely to him, no one has ever picked fame.

“It is the one thing I have always wanted,” he said. “When I was starting out at Pimco in 1972, I told my mother and father that I was going to become the most famous bond manager in the world.”

And this:

At night he will wake up as many as three times to check on global markets, he says.

And this:

“My whole evening is dependent on whether I beat them [Pimco, his former employer],” Mr. Gross said. “You see, I have to prove it all over again. Every day.”

The Landon Thomas Jr. NYT Dealbook post is interesting throughout.  And here is a 2008 profile of Gross.

Here is the transcript, the video, and the podcast.  We covered a good deal of ground, here is one bit:

COWEN: You once wrote, I quote, “My substitute for LSD was Indian food,” and by that, you meant lamb vindaloo.

PAGLIA: Yes.

COWEN: You stand by this.

PAGLIA: Yes, I’ve been in a rut on lamb vindaloo.

COWEN: A rut, tell us.

PAGLIA: It’s a horrible rut.

COWEN: It’s not a horrible rut, it may be a rut.

PAGLIA: No, it’s a horrible rut. It’s a 40-year rut. Every time I go to an Indian restaurant, I say “Now, I’m going to try something new.” But, no, I must go back to the lamb vindaloo.

All I know is it’s like an ecstasy for me, the lamb vindaloo.

COWEN: Like De Quincey, tell us, what are the effects of lamb vindaloo?

PAGLIA: What can I say? I attain nirvana.

And this:

COWEN: This is Sexual Personae, your best known book, which I recommend to everyone, if you haven’t already read it.

PAGLIA: It took 20 years.

COWEN: Read all of it. My favorite chapter is the Edmund Spenser chapter, by the way.

PAGLIA: Really? Why? How strange.

COWEN: That brought Spenser to life for me.

PAGLIA: Oh, my goodness.

COWEN: I realized it was a wonderful book.

PAGLIA: Oh, my God.

COWEN: I had no idea. I thought of it as old and fusty and stuffy.

PAGLIA: Oh, yes.

COWEN: And 100 percent because of you.

PAGLIA: We should tell them that The Faerie Queene is quite forgotten now, but it had enormous impact, Spenser’s Faerie Queene, on Shakespeare, and on the Romantic poets, and so on, and so forth. The Faerie Queene had been taught in this very moralistic way. But in my chapter, I showed that it was entirely a work of pornography, equal to the Marquis de Sade.

COWEN: [laughs]

PAGLIA: How interesting that you would be drawn to that.

COWEN: Very interesting.

Camille

You also can read or hear Camille on Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the Byrds, Foucault, Suzanne Pleshette vs. Tippi Hendren, dating, Brazil, Silicon Valley, Harold Bloom, LSD, her teaching career, and much, much more.

Typically a Conversation with Tyler is about ten thousand words, this one is closer to fifteen thousand.

My favorite (readily available) American chocolate bar is the dark Chocolove XoXoX, but recently they changed it.  The packaging went from very dark to to gold, and the flavor is now a little sweeter and less nutty.  The cocoa content is higher, but somehow it doesn’t quite shine through as strongly.  It still might be the best on the American market, but now I wonder, because it is modestly worse than before.

I no longer find the old bars in supermarkets, and an Amazon order of the old bars brought a shipment of the new bars instead.  But when I go to bookstores which sell chocolate, their supply turns over not so quickly, and so some of them still carry versions of the old bar.  For now.

I have five copies of the old bar left in the cupboard, and no guarantee for when I might replace them.

Chocolove Xoxox Premium Chocolate Bar - Dark Chocolate - Strong - 3.2 oz Bars - Case of 12 - Kosher - 70% Cocoa

My intuition is to eat them next in sequence, rather than postpone the exhaustion of their supply.  Eventually I will engage in an optimal forgetting of their very fine taste, and it is best that happens sooner rather than later.  To cite George Constantinides, that would be an optimal smoothing of habit-forming consumption.

An alternative philosophy is to consume them later in life, as late as spoilage costs will allow, so as to spread out aesthetic peaks over time.

Yet another alternative is give them away to latter-day customers who only have known the slightly inferior bar, and thus wreck their lives for sport.

So long, good Samaritans.

In the first study of its kind, Cornell sociologists have found that people who have a medical emergency in a public place can’t necessarily rely on the kindness of strangers. Only 2.5 percent of people, or 1 in 39, got help from strangers before emergency medical personnel arrived, in research published April 14 in the American Journal of Public Health.

For African-Americans, these dismal findings only get worse. African-Americans were less than half as likely as Caucasians to get help from a bystander, regardless of the type of symptoms or illness they were suffering – only 1.8 percent, or fewer than 1 in 55 African-Americans, received assistance. For Caucasians, the corresponding number was 4.2 percent, or 1 in 24.

People in lower-income and densely populated counties were also less likely to get help, the researchers said. Conversely, those in less-densely populated counties with average socioeconomic levels were most likely to get assistance.

Here is more, via Charles Klingman.

Singapore, 5 May 2015 – The Graciousness Index has continued to move up, from 53 in 2013 to 55 in 2014, and to 61 in 2015. This year’s rise is led by a growing sense of positive perceptions about kindness and graciousness in Singapore, with respondents rating both themselves and others higher when it comes to being considerate, courteous and showing appreciation.

The Graciousness Index is an annual study commissioned by the Singapore Kindness Movement to track experience and perceptions of kindness and graciousness in Singapore, as well as study attitudes towards various pertinent community issues. Over a six-week period from December 2014 to February 2015, a demographically representative sample of 1,850 respondents was asked to share their experiences and perceptions of graciousness in Singapore.

There was a marked increase in optimism, with 44% of respondents indicating that graciousness in Singapore had improved, compared to just 28% last year. 84% rated their own gracious behaviour as either good or excellent, and 69% felt the same about overall Singapore society. They also felt that Singapore was improving across the graciousness pillars of being considerate, being courteous and showing appreciation to others.

Dr. William Wan, General Secretary of the Singapore Kindness Movement, believes that this is a promising sign. “The increase in positive perceptions and overall sense of improvement is encouraging. If we as a nation continue this positive trend, then kindness and graciousness can become part of our norms and national identity.”

That which cannot be measured…

Here is the link, via James Crabtree.

An excellent short essay by Marti Leimbach.  Here is the opening:

My university-aged daughter is always tell me about the “privilege” that people like me have and how it makes it impossible for me to understand and empathise with those whose lives are without such privilege. I do see her point. I’ve never been black or gay or trans- or gender queer or mentally ill.  I don’t know what it would be like to grow up in a derelict building in a dangerous neighbourhood, to have drug addicts for parents, to fear for my safety while walking to school, to be openly despised for being female, denied education or refused employment based on  my skin colour or gender. And while I am have been poor enough not to be able to afford a car or health insurance, I have never been so poor I had to steal food. Clearly, I’ve not suffered the worst of what society can throw at a person.

Nonetheless, this whole notion of  “privilege” vexes me. We talk about it as though we can all recognise what it is. I am not always so sure. I can tell one narrative of my life and it seems to describe someone who grew up without privilege, and I can tell another narrative and it seems almost as though my life was one of ease and privilege from the time I was born.

The story continues…it is hard to excerpt with its various twists and turns, definitely recommended…

Here is her forthcoming novel,The Age of Consent.