Assorted links

1. Zero- or positive-sum game?

2. Via Chris F. Masse, which classic books do the French buy?  Asimov beats out Proust and Stendahl.

3. Interview with Martin Walser, on literature and religion.

4. More Charles Murray, on economic vs. cultural forces; “It is condescending to treat people who have less education or money as less morally accountable than we are. We should stop making excuses for them that we wouldn’t make for ourselves. Respect those who deserve respect, and look down on those who deserve looking down on.”

5. What lessons are other countries learning from the Greek default?

6. Article about me in Calcalist, Israeli periodical, in Hebrew.


4. The line you quote is a non sequitur. It may well be condescending to treat poor people as moral inferiors, but it doesn't follow that our ranges of excuses for them and us should be the same. They do, after all, have less money to buy things with.

And in his article, of course, In so far as the "new lower class" is defined by divorce, women's financial independence played a huge role. Like, duh.

I forgot to mention that, of course, moral status doesn't derive from willingness to accept low-paid work. Only a psychopath who want low-paid workers would think so.

Unclear what you mean by this. It is not immoral to refuse to take a job you think is beneath you, and instead live as a parasite off some combination of the state, your parents, and your girlfriend?

It's more alpha to do so. Women value selfishness, and the extra time you have because you aren't working can be spent doing things necessary to get women (hit the gym, woo girls, be "artistic", have a social scene).

This stuff gets you laid in your twenties, but it stops working so well as you get older.

And some women don't 'value' selfishness.

Also, many women value money over selfishness and unemployed dudes wooing them.


Hmm. I am quite a hard-working guy, occasionally bordering on workaholism, so I speak from some personal experience.

You are definitely right that this does not help getting laid in the 20s, and that the situation changes later.

There is a little catch, though: by their 30s, guys are no longer so much after sex as in their 20s. So the situation does not really reverse.

Shortly: you can't have it all. If work satisfies you, you just need to accept that it will encroach on your sex life.

Selfishness has a way of getting you money. For high IQ people they become investment bankers. Low IQ people become gangbangers. One peaks in their 30s and 40s and the other in the teens and 20s.

Sure, but I think the point he's alluding to is that 'the poor' make different choices than 'the rich' even after you control for how much money they have, and that to the extent that we can introspect that we'd make different choices in their shoes, we should hold them accountable for the difference.

Seems like a strawman argument to me. What is and is not moral is not decided democratically. It is decided by those with the money/power (you know "The Golden Rule".)

The real argument is about what the rules are and how they are arrived at.


I disagree. Look at the Arab world. The street hates the ruling class (which has all the money and power) precisely because of their widely perceived (un-Islamic) immorality. No amount of brainwashing from the media can change it, it actually has the opposite effect.

1. Why can't it be negative-sum?

It can only be negative sum if you include the welfare of women ;)

Christie beats out Simenon (more than double), Steinbeck and London appear, but Twain does not. And JKRowling is nowhere to be seen.

Jack London deservedly appears because he wrote on the best novels ever: "Martin Eden" -

#4 In other words, "Jean Valjean = Winona Ryder"?

4. Does Murray think calling men bums instead of slackers will change their behavior? I doubt it will. At least he admits in this piece that women's improved income mean they don't need male income. I think this is causing the decline of marriage. Having the upper class denounce the bums will not make a difference in lower class behavior.

Middle and upper class women have seen the same increase in their income and career opportunities-- perhaps even more so. So why not the same decline in marriage rates?

Perhaps because the 'intensive cultivation' model of middle and upper-class parenting is much harder to pull off in a single-parent household?

Bingo. Yes, there is a financial component (men earning six figures are better then welfare, men earning 30k not so much), but its all about the helicopter parenting.

Regular children aren't a valueable asset to an upper class women. She doesn't want a brood like a trailer park girl. She is going for quality over quantity. Her kids need to be "successes". And whatever grrrl power stuff she may have picked up young, every woman knows deep down that having a father is very important to raising successful kids.

I got a feeling that Murray is unhappy because we don't call unemployed guys living at home "bums." That's a term deliberately used as an insult. "Slacker," to his ear, is more descriptive, less judgemental. And since it's an underlying idea of his that behavior of the underclass can be shaped by the exhortations/abuse of the upperclass, "bum" is a much better term to use than "slacker." Hopefully, over time, the label will spread from the well-to-do to the middle class and to the indulgent parents of the intentionally unemployed and at last even to the bums themselves; once they accept the term and admit the unappealing truth of their status, their behavior will begin to change.

YMMV. Personally, I suspect this analysis was less than wonderful when dealing with the unemployed in the 1930's and has flaws in the 2010's. But I'm not in Murray's pay league, so what do I know?

#3 Quote, "...As Kierkegaard writes, the size of one’s faith can be measured by one’s lack of faith. I agree.

The European: I think that we have to understand Barth in the context of existentialism. Here’s someone who does not want to give up his faith, but who struggles to make sense of it through the traditional methods and arguments of Christian theology.
Walser: The existentialism of Sartre has nothing to do with Barth. Sartre is completely within this world, not otherworldly. He can be justified through social actions. Camus, maybe. But I am interested in something else. Once you have awakened to the question of faith, you cannot simply return to your everyday agenda like a committed atheist could. You cannot retreat to the comforts of atheism. Behind us are two thousand years that have been marked by questions about God. Today’s atheistic calm, even from intellectuals, is equal to the eradication of our intellectual history.

The European: Why?
Walser: Because we would have to admit that we were crazy. You cannot spend two thousand years trying to understand God and then simply abandon the question and declare that we’re not interested in it anymore."


What a particularly bad piece of reasoning. I guess that's to be expected from someone who is crazy.

What is bad about it?

Let's try to formulate the question to which faith is the answer. (It's not, "Should I or shouldn't I believe in God?")

Let's put it like this: How do I decide how to act when there is no evidence to guide my course of action? or, "How do I act in the absence of determinative evidence?"

Questions about God are questions about a particular way of answering that larger problem.

Once we specify the question, and the problem questions about God confront, it's quite clear that we are not dealing with a question or a problem that is unique to believers.

To say otherwise is to rely upon a silly caricature of atheists and their concerns, as well as a silly caricature of theists and their practices.

There are plenty of theists who never confront the problem of faith in practicing their faith (Kierkegaard emphasized this quite a bit.) And there are plenty of atheists who strive to figure out how to ground their actions when the universe provides no standard to guide them, in view of a rich history - including, but not exhausted by religious history - which wrestles with precisely that issue.

Thanks for your response. However, it isn't true that "How do I decide how to act when there is no evidence to guide my course of action?" is the question to which faith is the answer. To see this we can consider a criminal who robs a bank when he is in desperate need of money, but later repents and turns to faith. The next time he is in need of money, he will precisely *not* turn to his previous evidence of what can "solve" his problem, but will do something else. The faith will allow him to exclude choices of action that are bad, but it will rarely decide for him a good path of action.

The question of what is faith the answer to is "What should we do now to be happy in the future?" All faiths can be seen to reflect this somehow. Ancient Pagan practices of sacrifices for good harvests were to prevent starvation and to have lots of food later. Jewish practices of observing the Mosaic Law are to pay homage to God in any way one can and to remain spiritually pure. And even the most controversial of Christian practices, say opposing abortion or gay marriage, are to prevent "predicted ills" in the future.

Even "atheist practices" are there to prevent the possibility of believing something wrong in the future.


Your latest comment has nothing to do with your earlier one and suggests that you did not understand what you quoted and agreed with. 2,000 years were not spent debating whether it is moral to rob a bank.

Cliff, my goal was to make the argument less dry and abstract by using an example.

Hm, I don't agree with your characterization of faith (and, of course, you don't agree with mine.)

What you are talking about sounds like ethics to me.

When I refer to faith, I am thinking of it not the the terms of "a faith" but in the sense of "having faith." That is to say I am thinking of faith as trust, as fidelity, as fides, not as a body of doctrines.

And the problem of faith as trust is precisely the problem of what we do when we no longer have any doctrine to guide us - when there is nothing we can trust in. But consideration of such questions no more depends upon religion and God than having a set of doctrines which guide one's actions (having an ethics) depends upon religion and God.

Here is the real point of the Greek default, when seen through the eyes of a former Soviet Socialist Republic -
'Now the Ukrainians are having a tough time negotiating natural gas purchases from Russia and may end up buying gas elsewhere.'
The Russians stopped taking promises several years ago, and since European customers were equally tired of the Ukrainians siphoning off natural gas, the Ukrainains had to give up their protracted default in that area. This is where the Icelanders are quite privileged - the Norwegians eill guarantee sufficient oil products regardless of the other bills the Icelanders aren't paying.

Any nation that defaults in the eyes of its energy suppliers will find out that what it means to default to somebody that is providing an essential commodity. (The same applies to food, of course.)

As for the Ukrainians finding other energy suppliers that will be more willing to be stiffed? Good luck.

Walser's comments make me feel very embarrassed for him. For example, this exchange:

Walser: Today’s atheistic calm, even from intellectuals, is equal to the eradication of our intellectual history.
The European: Why?
Walser: Because we would have to admit that we were crazy. You cannot spend two thousand years trying to understand God and then simply abandon the question and declare that we’re not interested in it anymore.

Some clever economist should teach him that sunk costs are sunk.

Sunk in millennia of bloodshed.

Wasn't Walser a Nazi, then a Commie and now (again) a right-winger? Ideological sunk costs don't seem to have bothered him much.

#6 comes just in time as I am trying to decide which language to learn next: Hebrew is on my list.

Nice post Andreas! I agree with your sentiment that being fluent in Persian is not very useful, it may be good to learn just a few phrases for you wife ("I love you", etc.) I like romance languages too, I think any would be a good choice, though I will add that I think Italian is highly underrated in usefulness.

Ah the Charles Murray solution:

Insult people more.

Truly, a conservative luminary.

Re: Git's response to Charles Murray.

I have many great neighbours and a couple of rude, selfish ones. One neighbour has a degree and is rude/selfish. Another neighbour dropped out to run his (small) business. He's rude/selfish too. Should I give the latter guy a "pass" on rude/selfish behaviour because he's only got his High School diploma?

Well yes, one should expect more modesty and liberality from the rich from the poor, and selfishness is a greater mark of defect among the rich than the poor. But that's not what my point was.

Whether or not those one taunts have, or do not have, a college degree, increasing the volume of school yard taunts is a truly awe-inspiring solution to social problems.

More modesty and liberality from the rich? What's the income cut-off for that distinction? I would love to tell you that there are fewer jerks (and jerkettes) driving beater cars than jerks/jerkettes driving Porches, but alas... I will agree that the very wealthy have more impact on the world via their selfishness than the selfishness of the very poor, all other things being equal.

Finally, it might be the case that "shaming" works (you call it taunting, I call it shaming). Some native groups agitate for "shaming circles" to replace traditional incarceration re: criminals.

Shaming, taunting, insulting, whatever. It's efficacy at accomplishing something is not in doubt. What's in doubt is whether it accomplishes something worth while.

As to liberality and modesty, this is just Aristotelian ethics. One express virtuosity in practice; being able to practice things freely, as opposed to according to necessity, requires wealth; therefore the wealthy are more able to practice virtuosity, ergo one expects both more virtuosity and greater viciousness from the wealthy than from the poor.

Insult? Nah. Watch Supernanny. You're not insulting children when you put them in timeout for bad behavior. It's feedback to encourage responsible and respectful behavior and its amazingly effective.

#4 Why is Charles Murray surprised that a good economy correlated with more highschool dropouts? Isn't that an obvious connection? When the economy is good there is less of an opportunity cost to dropping out of highschool.

That's not true. The opportunity cost of dropping out of high school is the discounted value of all the future benefits from higher pay high-school graduates receive in comparison with high-school dropouts. Since the gap has been growing larger and larger in the last 20 years, your obvious connection does not exist.

It does exist when you have a really high discount rate, which is common among teenagers.

Right, but that is the whole point. The gap in expected benefits has been growing while dropout rates have also increased. The only way that can happen is if the discount rate changed (and changed quite dramatically in order to reverse the direction of the expected behavioral response) - and I haven't really seen any credible explanation why that happened.

It is quite clear that cultural factors are to blame for that. Occam's razor usually does not lie.

Oh I see what you mean. In that case I agree with you, I was merely commenting on Charles Murray's surprise as this as a short term phenomenon.

#2. Since when is Asimov "classic"? He's definitely in my top 3 "I have interesting concepts but I write worse than a 7th grader" list of sci-fi writers.

You don't know many 7th graders, do you?

Better to criticize poor men, instead of the generation of sluts that produced them. Thanks Dr. Murray.

There's plenty of criticism to go around. I think he also advocates a return to stigmatizing bastard births.

The more I hear from Murray the more I dislike him. It was better just reading his statistics.

It's easy to criticize the solutions he devises for the very real problems his statistics uncover. Hell, he himself says he thinks they're unlikely to work and that he cannot think of anything powerful enough to reverse the trends he outlines.

Sneering at his solutions signaling you're a "nicer" person is not productive, particularly when you use a pseudonym (I suppose signalling is so reflexive that we always do it). Point out why you think what he says is wrong and posit a counter solution.

I actually think there's more to some of his solutions than he thinks. Shame and ridicule have a lot of power to change behavior, at first outward and then inward. I don't know too many guys who make gay jokes anymore and I don't know a soul who makes racist cracks. (Yes, I realize there are still people who do both, but they are cautious about it because they know it's unacceptable and they do a lot less of it than they otherwise would.)

If you think Murray through you'll realize he's all about signaling. How much louder can you blast, "I'm an important serious person," from the rooftops.

Left half of the bell curve white dudes have been getting stomped on for a couple decades now in every single area of life. I don't think "shame" is the answer to that. They've taken a rational look at what society is offering them and realized its a raw deal, so they are protesting by dropping out.

Monetarily, that's a falsifiable premise. Things are probably worse for the blue collar whites now than in 1970, but working at WalMart now will get you ten times the standard of living that the best farm or factory job would have gotten you in 1870, when they did not drop out.

Of course, other people wouldn't have subsidized their decision to do nothing then, so perhaps what you're saying is we shouldn't give any government benefits to people who can support themselves. Oh that's right, you never bother to advocate ideas or express reasons. You just denounce with contempt. Thanks for adding to the conversation.

There is a surplus of low skill labor, and not enough work for them to do. Outsourcing + immigrants + industrial automation mean these people don't have an economic reason to exist. If we get rid of welfare it would bring a few more people into the labor force as wages collapsed, but its not formula for a living wage from manual labor.

The women don't have a purpose either, but they have wombs, which give them inherent value irregardless of who they are as people. They are also more pliable towards low end service labor which conforms with their feminine inclincations.

There is no "solution" short of eugenics and identity politics, which are both off the table.

Jon Stewart makes gay and Jewish jokes all the time. He just pretends like he's being super double ironic; that's the trick.

Also he's Jewish. For those jokes he's 'allowed' to make them without shame.

When Murray was referencing dropouts, I took it to mean labor force dropouts.

I know I would suffer immeasurable wrath from my father if I were to live off the state or my wife. Perhaps there is a causation effect of more single parenthood in that many kids simply don't have a father's influence.

Single motherhood is child abuse. But are we going to shame single mothers? Are we going to shame women's sexual liberation? Are we going to take a long hard look at how unleashed female sexuality affects society?

No, let's just pile on low IQ dudes. They need to man up.

Murray advocates shaming single mothers as well as deadbeat dads.

Does he now? What form will this shaming take? Will they recieve less welfare? Will their lives be made harder? Will we risk having the children suffer?

The children are the human shield single mothers use to protect themselves from the consequences of their own actions. Are you willing to go through them to punish the mother?

If "shaming" worked it would have worked over the last 40 years. You can't even call a girl a slut today without it being a hate word. Women have slutwalks to celebrate slutitude.

Shaming will never work because smart yuppie women with enough IQ and self control to use birth control want sexual freedom and the right to abort any mistakes in their 20s. If they shame the lower classes for their sexuality they will have to give up those rights, which they will never do.

And the answer to that is simply to not satisfy the demands of young smart women.

And to be fair, as a well-off and reasonably high-status male who enjoys lots of sex, I would never want them to either.

#4 The soft bigotry of low expectations.

Another economics power couple: Esther Duflo is pregnant with Banerjee's child.

RE:#6 Hey Tyler, please let me know if you'd like me to article in Hebrew for you. I'd be happy to.

Oops. "Translate" is the missing word above :)

am I missing something here? $33,000 in 1960 is somehow equivalent to $36,000 in 2010? That can't possibly be what he means....

He says "expressed in 2010 dollars", so inflation-adjusted, I assume. Though my guess would be that the cost of a middle-class life has gone up ahead of inflation.

And it's also a mistake of Murray's to only look at salary while neglecting status and future prospects. And to assume that the jobs available to labor-market "dropouts" are of average quality, as opposed to skewing towards lower quality.

I look down on ignorant racists that don't understand basic statistics and whose work doesn't stand up to standard peer review- is Murray down with that?

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