Stories you won’t often hear

I believe we are programmed to favor political stories with relatively clear moral lessons, and stories which suggest we can improve the world as we might like to.  As a result, you won’t hear the following claims too many times:

1. We already have wrecked our environment with global warming; the truth is, it is simply too late to do anything about it.

2. The U.S. economy is being riveted by forces which will increase inequality dramatically.  These forces are so strong we had better surrender to them and learn how to live with that inequality.  This may involve less political power for the downtrodden.

3. A polity wracked with inequality can’t last very long as a free society.  Philosophic worries about inequality are mostly bunk, but we need to move toward greater equality to appease the masses and even to appease some of the elites.

Please note (all you blogs which quote selectively and out of context), none of those are my views.  But they are not less plausible than many of the other opinions thrown around in these debates.  Yet they remain, for obvious reasons I think, quite unpopular.

Can you think of other (plausible) stories which you don’t hear too often?


Well, there is the paradox of the merocratic society creating a permanent underclass, unable to retain its leaders, and with uncertain claims to equality. Long-term, that should happen if the effects of genetics overcome the effects of environment, which, at least according to Steven Pinker, is what is happening.

The Keynesian anti-inflation story: Inflation is getting out of hand. To deal with it, we have to raise taxes and cut government spending.

We came close to this in the late 60s with a Johnson tax increase, but he promised it was temporary (i.e. it had only a small effect on permanent income) and he tied it to the war in Vietnam, no inflation

I actually believe #2 is correct. What about the Ray Kurzweil idea that mechanical intelligence will dwarf human intelligence within 40-50 years and there's not a damn thing anyonecan do about it? That's another idea worth pondering. (I realize Kurzweil isn't the only proponent of this development.)

"We already have wrecked our environment with global warming; the truth is, it is simply too late to do anything about it."

I hear this one all the time from my landscape photographer crunchy-granola friends. I think you underestimate the appeal of cataclysmic thinking. Consider the popularity of Hal Lindsay's books, for example.

In regards to #1, there is a very interesting 2-3 hour special on the History channel that explains what is called the "Little Ice Age". Watch this program, it gives lots of food for thought. Also, my Dad has been to Alaska several times and one thing he points out is, I believe that it is Denali National Park (not sure), but there are signs located periodically locating the end of a particular glacier. This glacier has been receeding since the early-mid 1800's (most likely before, but that is when the signs begin). So, if WE are responsible for global warming, why has the glacier been shrinking since before the invention of the internal combustion engine, aeresol sprays, etc.?

The federal income tax code in the US is one of the most egregious programs which violate horizontal equity.

Good stuff.

I think the most interesting thesis that is not heard is that the ultimate solution that is philosophically viable to a modern liberal (with a small "l") democratic mindset over Israel/Palestine is the creation of a one state, two nation polity. The idea that one party should receive world support for maintaining and creating a state that only benefits one ethnicity over the other, even though both have legitimate claims over the territory is not viable. It also seems to undermine the U.S.'s role in the middle east and the world at large.

I feel this is a thesis that virtually no commentator is willing to put forth because it requires accepting something people don't want to accept: that Israel as a Jewish-only state will cease to exist.

H.L. Mencken would agree with Tyler. Here are a few quotations from Mencken about belief plasticity:

“The influenze epidemic of 1919, though it had an enormous mortality in the United States and was, in fact, the worst epidemic since the Middle Ages, is seldom mentioned, and most Americans have apparently forgotten it. This is not surprising. The human mind always tries to expunge the intolerable from memory, just as it tries to conceal it while current.†

“[C]onscription in both cases [World Wars I and II] involved the virtual enslavement of multitudes of young Americans who objected to it. But having been forced to succumb, most of them sought to recover their dignity by pretending that they succumbed willingly and even eagerly. Such is the psychology of the war veteran. He goes in under duress, and the harsh usage to which he is subjected invades and injures his ego, but once he is out he begins to think of himself as a patriot and a hero. The veterans of all American wars have resisted stoutly any effort to examine realistically either the circumstances of their service or the body of idea underlying the cause they were forced to serve. Man always seeks to rationalize his necessities -- and, whenever possible, to glorify them.†

“I was once told by a Catholic bishop that whenever a priest comes to his ordinary with the news that he has begun to develop doubts about this or that point of doctrine, the ordinary always assumes as a matter of fact that a woman is involved. It is almost unheard of, however, for a priest to admit candidly that he is a party to a love affair: he always tries to conceal it by ascribing his deserting to theological reasons. The bishop said that the common method of dealing with such situations is to find out who the lady is, and then transfer the priest to some remote place, well out of her reach.†

All three come from Mencken's book Minority Report.

A polity wracked with inequality can operate as long as it's members believe there is mobility between economic strata.

The greatest internal threat to a polity comes from those who are able to attain great wealth and/or power despite innumeracy and ignorance of basic economic concepts.

"mechanical intelligence will dwarf human intelligence within 40-50 years"

Many people seem to confuse the ability to amass knowledge (memory) with the ability to apply it (intelligence).

Re 2: I had thought that, in the US, the correlation between parents' and children's income levels was quite low (0.2 to 0.4). US income outcomes are quite unequal but the system is pretty stable. Other countries with an equal degree of inequality but with a more entrenched oligarchy may be more susceptible to civil unrest. To what extent do “the masses† buy into bettering their lot (and the lot of their children) from within “the system† versus bettering their lot (and the lot of their children) by overthrowing “the system?†

Re: 3: History is full of very successful political units with large degrees of income inequality. All political organizations will eventually fail. What is the evidence that income equality leads to longevity?

4. Net, our environment is in better shape than it has been in the last 200 years; the truth is, it is simply no need to do anything about it.

"For as many times as the end of the Earth has been predicted, it hasn't happened yet."

My doctor's a moron - he keeps on telling me that smoking cigarettes are bad for my health. But I've smoked alll my life, and I have yet to die. Idiot.

My favorites:
1. Technological advancement causes a certain level of unemployment, which seems like a terrible thing at the time, but is actually a great thing.
2. In life, people will be as successful as their natural-born smarts and their determination and work ethic allow them (i.e. rags to riches, think Jay Z). Being born rich is no guarantee of wealth later on life (i.e. shirt sleeves to shirt sleeves in one generation).

"No matter what we do or say, government will grow larger year by year forever. The most we can hope for is a brief period when the rate of growth slows just a bit. And even that may only happen once or twice in a lifetime."

Here's another one: actively supporting the passage of environmental protection legislation is wildly more effective at preserving the environment than an equivalent effort made as an individual consumer to identify and buy "eco-friendly" goods or to implement a personal recycling and conservation regime.

Genuine Marxism, maybe. But genuine Marxism isn't (and AFAIK, never has been) wildly popular. Folk-Marxism may be wildly popular, but it's generally invoked as a call to action.

True but hopelessly unpopular? That's my market niche!

For examples, see the entire contents of

Mathew wrote of "the distinct possibility of non-CO2 remediations to global warming -- sulphate particle release and orbiting mirrors to increase Earth's albedo, for example".

He should realize, however, that any plan that can be accurately, succinctly, and *literally* summed up as "smoke and mirrors" is quite unlikely to be adopted... :-)

"Libertarians and right-wingers are so desperate to reinforce their deeply held just-world hypothesis that this tendency, combined with a desire to see themselves as boldly seeking the facts in opposition to popular pressure and the recieved wisdom, allows them to be easily led astray by neo-eugenicists whose rhetoric has a shaky scientific basis."

Beautifully put.

"easily led astray by neo-eugenicists whose rhetoric has a shaky scientific basis"

"Hoow" about this:

The environmental movement's anti-DDT campaign alone has killed over 30 million people, nearly all of them non english speaking with dark skin. Their efforts to block the use of chlorine and GM crops is a little harder to gauge, but the number there is certainly large. Who were you saying was a neo-eugenicist?

I created a claim for #3 on Jyte...let's see what everyone thinks!

Given exponential development in medical technology and advanced capitalist countries awash in money, there is going to be inevitable spiralling "out of control" medical spending. Deal with it.

Charles Murray had a 3-day series on education in the WSJ earlier this month. A rough summary of his thesis is that, based upon inherent intelligence limitations, many people can only go so far in their education, and it is folly and wasteful to try to overcome these limitations. We would all, including the people with these limitations, be better off (according to the articles) if we dedicated more resources to educating the most intelligent people, and recognized that everybody else is suited for certain occupations, and spent less time, money, and effort in educating them on topics and at levels for which they are not suited.

The series was widely remarked upon (perhaps even here) as brave, foolish, mean, nasty, or inspired. Some said he spoke a truth no others dare to mention. Others said he spoke a hateful message deserving of contempt. Most everybody agreed that the articles would have no meaningful effect on education policy, even if they were 100% accurate and just, because nobody wants to accept the implications of his thesis. And most everybody is probably right.

Thomas Sowell:

"People in the media, in academia and among the intelligentsia in general who are obsessed with "disparities" in income and wealth usually show not the slightest interest in how that income and wealth were produced in the first place." The explanation that follows is interesting.

"Things are worth it or not worth it to particular individuals. What these things might be worth to somebody else is irrelevant.

People who think that they, or the government, ought to be deciding how much income people make are in effect saying that they know the value of people's output better than those who use that output and pay for it with their own money. "

First quote
Second quote

A political career requires enormous investments in time (and hence foregone earnings) at an age when most people have few savings. In the absence of a loan market to fund these investments, politicians have more than their fair share of trust fund babies and the corruptible among them.

Realistic pornography is making either feminism or the whole idea of the family obsolete.

Responsible saving for retirement is overrated and arguably very shortsighted. Given the dismal fiscal situation of most US households, we must rationally expect an enormous bailout of the underfunded (posssibly associated with a dramatic depreciation of the dollar) combined with wealth taxation on those who have actually saved enough to be more than barely self-sufficient. Wealth has decreasing returns in utility terms, and the availability of truly superior goods (on which you'd spend your extra money) is likely to be abrogated anyhow, since the number of people who can afford them will plummet.

A rational strategy is thus to splurge NOW, taking advantage of the time value of the
(like my new 56" HDTV), much as a future college student should deplete his/her savings to qualify for a better financial aid package, or a Medicare recipient should spend down savings to become penniless just before needing long-term care.

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may!

Hmmm, how about,

"The number of Americans killed by terrorists is dwarfed by the numbers killed by automobile accidents or obesity. Thus terrorism, while attention-grabbing, is ultimately a small nuisance compared to pressing health and economic issues. As such, it is not worth significant expenditure, foreign policy adjustments, or altering our way of life to combat terrorism."

Bonus points toward never hearing this story if you use the words "tar baby."

"I've actually made a version of this argument myself a number of times"

Me too, paricularly while doing a shelf check at, say, Best Buy or Home Depot.

For Leo, true or not, those are hardly things we don't hear too often.

Stories you won't hear??
We already have wrecked our environment with global warming; the truth is, it is simply too late to do anything about it.
Today news story:
The world's leading climate scientists said global warming has begun, is "very likely" caused by man, and will be unstoppable for centuries

I understand where you are going with #1, but it is logically off the beam. A more accurate characterization than the one you offer would be that the damage we have already done is large and for a very long period, irreversable. We will, however, continue to influence climate through our activity. We simply don't know what that influence is likely to be. Since our accumulated habits and capital are calibrated to do best in the world as we know it, further change is likely to be a problem for us, just as is the change we have already induced. It is probably not true that we have already done all the damage we can do. What is true is that we cannot undo the damage we have done so far.


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