Month: December 2015

When should we feel guilt and collective guilt?

Dustin P. writes to me:

I would enjoy a blog post discussing under what circumstances you feel guilt, and how you respond. I am especially interested in instances where you feel a portion of some collective guilt – family actions, neighborhood failures, national politics. 

I’ll focus on the social, collective, and intellectual sides of this problem, rather than my own (numerous) personal failings.

I feel the most guilt when eating the meat of intelligent animals raised under poor or tortured conditions.  I am not opposed to all meat-eating per se, but most meat-eating in today’s America does not meet satisfactory moral standards.  I still do it because I am not that good a person, at least not in this regard.  I am struck by the title of the forthcoming book by Frans de Waal: Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?

I don’t feel so much collective guilt about the course of history.  None from my Irish or Irish-American backgrounds, in part because I know very little about my ancestors.  I also don’t feel personal guilt for earlier history, such as the genocide against Native Americans.  I don’t feel responsible for it.  Perhaps irrationally, I do feel some guilt for Americans being such world bullies, even when that is necessary or beneficial for the broader fate of civilization.  I feel that indirectly I partake in that, if only by representing what are broadly American points of view in global settings, including on this blog.

I feel guilt for not giving more money to poor people, even though a) I probably give more than average to poor people, typically in Mexico, and b) I don’t hold an extreme Singerian view about our obligations in that regard.  I still feel I am failing at the margin.

Overall it is possible that I treat guilt as many voters treat gasoline prices.  I am perhaps overly bothered by fairly visible, repeated small transactions of a rather obvious salience.

So now, as a result of thinking about this blog post, I feel guilt about my guilt.

But only to a point. Furthermore guilt is often a substitute for action, rather than a spur to action, which gives me further reason to feel guilt about my guilt, though not in the right action-inducing way.

Sunday assorted links

1. Gelman on Douglas Campbell on genetic distance.

2. This is so much asking the wrong question.

3. Why was the Fed’s rate hike technically so smooth?

4. Merry Xmas slide show, using math and math alone.

5. “The total absence of a cultural footprint for Avatar is fascinating…Hey. Right now. Try to quote Avatar, the highest-grossing movie of all time. Quote ANY line. Or name 2 characters. No cheating.”  Twitter link is here.

Which technology should we unlearn?

Todd, a loyal MR reader, writes to me:

If you had the power to make civilization unlearn one technology or theory in use today, what would it be?

I’m not ready to say nuclear weapons, which so far have been a major net force for peace, at least until the next one goes off.

Music streaming (or is it the MP3?) doesn’t seem important enough, still I do not think it will improve creativity over the longer run.  In this sector I care more about the total quality of product than about maximizing the sum total of consumer plus producer surplus.

How about the Facebook technology which limits you to 5000 friends?  (just joking…)

Modern ketchup?

Land mines are a possible pick, but that wouldn’t help South Korea any.  Drones are another candidate, too early to tell.

In my rather strongly held view, most technologies are net improvements.

But I think I’ll go with cluster bombs.  Or poison gas.  The Kalashnikov?

Saturday assorted links

Is Migration a Basic Human Right?

The latest Freakonomics radio podcast grapples with the question Is Migration a Basic Human Right? (itunes) As usual, Stephen Dubner and his team have put together a compelling story with multiple-angles and perspectives. I provide the jumping off point:

There are fundamental human rights. There are rights which accrue to everyone, no matter who they are, no matter where they are on the globe. Those rights include the right to free expression. They include the right to freedom of religion. And I believe they should also include the right to move about the Earth.

but many other voices are also heard including Madeleine Albright, the great Michael Clemens, Casey Mulligan, refugee Basel Esa and others.

By the way, a new book on global justice is of interest, Justice at a Distance, by philosopher Loren Lomasky and legal scholar Fernando Teson.

Cross-national differences in genes and socioeconomic status

That is a newly published piece by Elliot M. Tucker-Drob and Timothy C. Bates, the abstract is this:

A core hypothesis in developmental theory predicts that genetic influences on intelligence and academic achievement are suppressed under conditions of socioeconomic privation and more fully realized under conditions of socioeconomic advantage: a Gene × Childhood Socioeconomic Status (SES) interaction. Tests of this hypothesis have produced apparently inconsistent results. We performed a meta-analysis of tests of Gene × SES interaction on intelligence and academic-achievement test scores, allowing for stratification by nation (United States vs. non–United States), and we conducted rigorous tests for publication bias and between-studies heterogeneity. In U.S. studies, we found clear support for moderately sized Gene × SES effects. In studies from Western Europe and Australia, where social policies ensure more uniform access to high-quality education and health care, Gene × SES effects were zero or reversed.

I would put it this way: genes matter more when you equalize environmental influences in the United States, but not in many other countries.  By the way, this also holds if you control for race and the greater racial diversity of the United States.  One possibility is that there are greater environmental differences to be equalized in America in the first place, compared to say the Netherlands, one country where the gradient is quite different.  In any case an interesting piece.

For the pointer I thank Michelle Dawson.

One-way driving markets the polity that is Dutch

The government in the Netherlands has clarified that it is legal for driving instructors to offer lessons in return for sex, as long as the students are over the age of 18.

However, it is illegal to offer sex in return for lessons.

Transport minister Melanie Schultz van Haegen and Justice minister Ard van der Steur addressed the issue in response to a question tabled in parliament by Gert-Jan Segers of the socially conservative Christian Union party, noting that, although ‘undesirable’, offering driving lessons with sex as payment is not illegal.

There is more here, and for the pointer I thank Michael C.

Friday assorted links

1. Why does political gridlock seem to be over for now?

2. Interesting NYT piece on how Israel is trying to restore domestic safety.  It’s not even a lead or main article, but an excellent example of insightful reporting, analytics, behavioral understanding, and real world relevance, all rolled up into one piece.  Hardly a day goes by on MR that I don’t like to something from the NYT,and this is one good illustration why.

3. Is California overregulating driverless cars?

4. Gifting a mountain to Finland isn’t as easy as it might sound.  And five intentionally missed free throws, also on that side of the Atlantic.

5. David Brooks hands out Sidney Awards.

6. Canadian prizes for babies.

Roland Fryer’s Outstanding Seminar

Roland Fryer gave an outstanding seminar last week on Education, Inequality, & Incentives as part of GMU’s Buchanan Speaker Series. Fryer was passionate, funny, and informed as he recounted his journey pounding away at Stata in the late 1990s in an effort to show that Neal and Johnson were wrong and that racism just had to account for differences in wages and other outcomes between blacks and whites; to coming to accept that a large portion of the difference is determined by differences in human capital; to his shocking discovery that the Harlem Children’s Zone was dramatically increasing human capital among minorities; and finally to abandoning the academic game of estimating the different effects of beef and chicken soup (but in really cool and precise ways!) to instead throw himself into the messy work of taking the lessons from the best charter schools and applying and scaling those lessons to public schools across the nation.

I had long been aware of Fryer’s academic work but I had not realized how much he and his team at the Harvard EdLabs have actually done on the ground to remake dozens of schools in Houston, Denver and elsewhere–in the process showing that the best practices of the best charter schools can be scaled to the entire nation. Remarkable.

He starts off at 3:10 slightly hesitant but he really builds.

Kenneth Arrow on Piketty

Here is the closing paragraph of his short but interesting piece:

We might be especially moved to consider a consumption tax if we consider that Piketty’s proposed wealth tax seems in any case to be much higher than it sounds. If we are to assume, say a 5% return on property, then a 2% per annum tax on wealth would amount to about 40% of property income. If investment is financed by property income, this implies a very considerable reduction in investment. Is this desirable? One might doubt it, especially since the effects on investment would be substantial, even apart from incentive effects, which might also be quite considerable.

I would stress that a capital gains tax — not indexed for inflation — shares many properties of a wealth tax.  In recent academic debates, this point about wealth taxes is not being made nearly enough.

Can intelligence explain the overrepresentation of liberals and leftists in American academia?

How is that for a provocative, comment-inducing article title?  That’s a new piece in Intelligence by Noah Carl, the abstract is this:

It is well known that individuals with so-called liberal or leftist views are overrepresented in American academia. By bringing together data on American academics, the general population and a high-IQ population, the present study investigates how much of this overrepresentation can be explained by intelligence. It finds that intelligence can account for most of the disparity between academics and the general population on the issues of abortion, homosexuality and traditional gender roles. By contrast, it finds that intelligence cannot account for any of the disparity between academics and the general population on the issue of income inequality. But for methodological reasons, this finding is tentative. Furthermore, the paper finds that intelligence may account for less than half of the disparity on liberal versus conservative ideology, and much less than half the disparity on Democrat versus Republican identity. Following the analysis, eight alternative explanations for liberal and leftist overrepresentation are reviewed.

Do please note that the “intelligent” point of view need not be the correct one, it is simply the view held by individuals who measure as intelligent.

Most of all, modern America has a not-very-self-aware academic culture, which is far more insular than it likes to believe.  A good deal of what American academics believe springs from their culture, not from their intelligence per se.

For the pointer I thank Daniel B. Klein.