Barrel Strength

Over-Proof Opinion, Smoothly Aged Insight

Barrel Strength - Over-Proof Opinion, Smoothly Aged Insight

The Bell Curve, 20 Years later

Twenty years ago Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray published The Bell Curve. It had the effect of a large stone thrown into the still pond of “settled science”.
a) there is such a thing as g, general intelligence
b) it is largely heritable
b) IQ tests measure g quite well
c) IQ test outcomes predict a great many social results, including propensities to success or pathologies with better accuracy than any other measure, including years of education, family income, and social status;
d) social factors interact with genetic endowments, and
e) IQ results differ by race.

The Left has been in paroxysms of rage and denial ever since.

Charles Murray was interviewed about the Bell Curve recently in the policy blog of the American Enterprise Institute. Here is a snippet. Go the article for more.

American political and social life today is pretty much one great big “Q.E.D.” for the two main theses of “The Bell Curve.” Those theses were, first, that changes in the economy over the course of the 20th century had made brains much more valuable in the job market; second, that from the 1950s onward, colleges had become much more efficient in finding cognitive talent wherever it was and shipping that talent off to the best colleges. We then documented all the ways in which cognitive ability is associated with important outcomes in life — everything from employment to crime to family structure to parenting styles. Put those all together, we said, and we’re looking at some serious problems down the road. Let me give you a passage to quote directly from the close of the book:

Predicting the course of society is chancy, but certain tendencies seem strong enough to worry about:

An increasingly isolated cognitive elite.
A merging of the cognitive elite with the affluent.
A deteriorating quality of life for people at the bottom end of the cognitive distribution.

Unchecked, these trends will lead the U.S. toward something resembling a caste society, with the underclass mired ever more firmly at the bottom and the cognitive elite ever more firmly anchored at the top, restructuring the rules of society so that it becomes harder and harder for them to lose. (p. 509)

Remind you of anything you’ve noticed about the US recently?


Distributional Coalitions: Tribes,Classes, Lobby Groups

The intrusion of messy reality into economics generates most of its intellectual issues. The world escapes the simple axioms of market exchanges mediated through freely negotiated prices. An American economist called Mancur Olson wrote “The Rise and Decline of Nations: Economic Growth, Stagflation and Social Rigidities” in 1982. It discussed issues not within the scope of either monetarists or Keynsians, namely how economies do not work according to the ideas of either schools.

For Olson, the question to be answered was why some economies were performing better than others after World War 2. Why, for instance, was Britain in such a mess (pre-Thatcher) and Germany and Japan increasing in wealth by leaps and bounds?

Olson observed the behaviour of what he called “distributional coalitions”, which are normally economic associations but which can morph overtime into castes, tribes, or even races. Usually we call them “special interest groups”, and usually we think of them as things like the dairy farmers, or other organized economic groups with formal legal status which seek legal or regulatory privileges (professional associations, banks, etc). Olson pointed out that they are usually small, they exercize disproportionate power, they reduce efficiency in the economy, they slow a society’s adaptation to change, and once successful, are exclusive and seek to limit the diversity of incomes and values of their membership.

His final rule of interest groups was:

9. The accumulation of distributional coalitions increases the complexity of regulation, the role of government, and the complexity of understandings, and changes the direction of social evolution.

Olson pointed out how expensive it is for anyone to discriminate racially (or any other way) as individuals, but by contrast, how rewarding it is to discriminate when it is done collectively. South Africa, in the apartheid days, could engineer much higher standards for whites by keeping blacks out of skilled and semi-skilled work.

Moreover, a racially, linguistically and culturally distinctive group finds it easier to maintain a multi-generational coalition. “The linguistic and cultural similarities will reduce differences in values and facilitate social interaction, and … this reduces conflict and makes it easier to generate social selective pressures.” (p.159)

And here is the kicker: if you can reinforce the “distributional coalition” with inbreeding – marrying within the tribe, the class, the group, the caste – you will make the group work better over time. This is called “endogamy”.

Unfortunately, the promotion of prejudices about race, ethnicity, culture and intergroup differences in lifestyle will also make the coalition work better. The inculcation of these prejudices will increase the probability that the members will follow the rule of endogamy and strengthen selective incentives by interacting socially only with their own group, of their own accord.” (p160)

A good deal of whatever I learned as a kid from the osmosis of attitudes about the other tribe in Quebec, the French Canadians, reflected this truth of behaviour, and they had stronger if not deeper prejudices against us “English” (not a  tribe, really just a foreign bourgeoisie). A distributional coalition can be an ethnic majority as well as an ethnic minority. I am not saying that the prejudices of each tribe were unfounded; I am saying that looking at each group, the English in Quebec, or the French in Quebec, as a distributional coalition, generates some insights. It suggests that wherever you see strong barriers to intermarriage, you might be in the presence of a distributional coalition, as well as that of a tribe, caste, or religion. It also suggests that when barriers to intermarriage are falling, a distributional coalition is fading out.

Olson was suggesting that racial and other forms of discrimination can work as the enforcers of the privileges of a “distributional coalition”, but note that, in his view, he makes no assertion that we have some innate drive to discriminate  – an issue on which he is silent. He says that maintaining  in-group marriage (maintaining racial, tribal or religious boundaries) will strengthen the distributional coalition over time, indeed, it is the only way to maintain it over long periods of time.

In conclusion, Olson’s views balance the problems caused by instability against the problem s caused by distributional coalitions.

On the whole, stable countries are more prosperous than unstable ones and this is no surprise. But, other things being equal, the most rapid growth will occur in societies that have lately experienced upheaval but are expected nonetheless to be stable for the foreseeable future.

In short, they have had a chance to purge themselves of distributional coalitions.






Everyone has 481 servants

Matt Ridley’s The Rational Optimist is an important book, which describes the effect on humanity of the burning of fossil fuels. Largely its effect is benign and constructive. It has largely abolished the grinding poverty of all ages before Europe in the 19th century.

Every one of us has more servants at our disposal than Le Roi Soleil, Louis XIV, who had some 481, I seem to recall from Ridley’s book. The point of burning fossil fuels is to increase the energy available to each man, woman and child on the planet, both personally in what one can consume individually but more importantly, systemically in what society can use, such as streetlights, elevators, subways, heating and air conditioning of public spaces.

I would like to dwell for a moment however on the downside of the life of ease brought to us courtesy of fossil fuel consumption. I am not for a second proposing that a more virtuous existence can be found – on a broad social basis –  by using less energy. Personal abstention may well by fine, such as living by a lake in Finland or Canada at a low level of energy consumption, and some tribes, such as Amish and Hutterites, manage with a much more selective uptake of technology. For me, and for billions of my fellow humans, living with less energy when you need it constitutes poverty. We all desire to escape from it, and the enlightened wish to rescue their fellow humans from the disease, ignorance, brutality, and hopelessness that seem to be the essence of poverty.

If Theodore Dalrymple is right in his many castigations of the culture of poverty in the British idle classes, there is something to be said for a more stringent existence. His argument is that the former white working class of England and Scotland has been ruined by technological change leading to unemployment, and then, by a process of subsidization of this idleness, made available by general modern levels of taxation, and the prosperity on which taxation depends, the welfare state is producing people who do not believe in anything, do not toilet train their infants, do not believe in education, deliberately make bad choices in their sexual partners and produce more welfare children by several absent layabout fathers, avoid marriage, do not pick up the garbage they leave in their front yards,  do not cook and do not know how to cook, and, in short, are engaged in terminal cultural decline, abetted by a middle class industry of social minders whose jobs would disappear if the lazy fuck-heads would get religion, sober up, put on a white shirt, and look for a job.

In essence,  Dalrymple’s critique of poverty in the United Kingdom is that it is a spiritual and intellectual impoverishment brought about by modern wealth, that can afford to keep 15% of the nation idle and dissipated, and do nothing about it. By doing nothing I mean: do not attack it directly with spiritual and rigorous measures, by shaming, by forced work, by authoritarian interventions, by evangelical Christianity.

Two works by authors of entirely different dispositions have also addressed this problem. One is the socialist historian Richard Tawney, whose The Agrarian Problem in the 16th Century observed that, in Elizabethan England, some 20% of the population were beggars, wandering the roads and committing crimes, and threatening the social order. Tawney decried the Protestant Reformation and the effects of enclosures – denying the poor access to common land on which to graze their animals or plant a crop – as the basis of the crisis. Monasteries and Catholic orders had done what they could to alleviate the condition of the poor. The same layabouts as populate the lowest classes today were not contained at home with television and alcohol in the sixteenth century. With the abolition of the alms-giving institutions by the Reformation, the underclass was set loose to wander. The second historian who has addressed the issue of what England did with its illiterate layabouts – albeit in a different time – was Gertrude Himmelfarb, an American, whose book The Demoralization of Society and others has argued that the “Victorians” have been unjustly maligned for their efforts to rescue the lowest classes of England by a program of virtue.

… the Victorian virtues – prudence, temperance, industriousness, decency, responsibility – were thoroughly pedestrian. “They depended on no special breeding, talent, sensibility, or even money. They were common, everyday virtues, within the capacity of ordinary people. They were the virtues of citizens, not of heroes or saints – and of citizens of democratic countries, not aristocratic ones.”[15] Himmelfarb has argued “for the reintroduction of traditional values (she prefers the term ‘virtues’), such as shame, responsibility, chastity, and self-reliance, into American political life and policy-making”

So does Dalrymple.

Once again I find myself starting out by thinking one thing and realizing that it is an error. Maybe, I thought,  the problem of a layabout lowest class could be fixed in an environment where there was less available energy, where obesity was a disease of the idle rich rather than the idle poor. Maybe, I thought, when people actually have to work to eat, the habits of virtue could be instilled. Yet a few minutes of thinking remind me that poverty is not a matter of lack of wealth – if it were it could be and has been fixed. Poverty is a spiritual condition. When everyone has a shelter, a television set, heating, and the possibility of education, the fact remains that a significant proportion of the population dwell in darkness, and seem to prefer to live that way.  They are subsidized to remain that way. Removing the subsidies would put them on the streets, like the sturdy beggars of Elizabethan and later epochs of English history were, without solving the problem.

If I may borrow freely from the Wikipedia article on Theodore Dalrymple,  the pen name of Anthony Daniels,the problems look like this:

  • The cause of much contemporary misery in Western countries – criminality, domestic violence, drug addiction, aggressive youths, hooliganism, broken families – is the nihilistic, decadent and/or self-destructive behaviour of people who do not know how to live. Both the smoothing over of this behaviour, and the medicalisation of the problems that emerge as a corollary of this behaviour, are forms of indifference. Someone has to tell those people, patiently and with understanding for the particulars of the case, that they have to live differently.[15]
  • Poverty does not explain aggressive, criminal and self-destructive behaviour. In an African slum you will find among the very poor, living in dreadful circumstances, dignity and decency in abundance, which are painfully lacking in an average English suburb, although its inhabitants are much wealthier.[16]
  • An attitude characterised by gratefulness and having obligations towards others has been replaced – with awful consequences – by an awareness of “rights” and a sense of entitlement, without responsibilities. This leads to resentment as the rights become violated by parents, authorities, bureaucracies and others in general.[17]
  • One of the things that makes Islam attractive to young westernised Muslim men is the opportunity it gives them to dominate women.[18]
  • Technocratic or bureaucratic solutions to the problems of mankind produce disasters in cases where the nature of man is the root cause of those problems.
  • It is a myth, when going “cold turkey” from an opiate such as heroin, that the withdrawal symptoms are virtually unbearable; they are in fact hardly worse than flu.[19][20]
  • Criminality is much more often the cause of drug addiction than its consequence.
  • Sentimentality, which is becoming entrenched in British society, is “the progenitor, the godparent, the midwife of brutality”.[21]
  • High culture and refined aesthetic tastes are worth defending, and despite the protestations of non-judgmentalists who say all expression is equal, they are superior to popular culture.[22][23][24]
  • The ideology of the Welfare State is used to diminish personal responsibility. Erosion of personal responsibility makes people dependent on institutions and favours the existence of a threatening and vulnerable underclass.
  • Moral relativism can easily be a trick of an egotistical mind to silence the voice of conscience.[25]
  • Multiculturalism and cultural relativism are at odds with common sense.[26]
  • The decline of civilised behaviour – self-restraint, modesty, zeal, humility, irony, detachment – ruins social and personal life.[27]
  • The root cause of our contemporary cultural poverty is intellectual dishonesty. First, the intellectuals (more specifically, left-wing ones) have destroyed the foundation of culture, and second, they refuse to acknowledge it by resorting to the caves of political correctness.
  • Beyond and above all other nations in the world, Britain is the place where all the evils summarised above are most clearly manifest.

Even with 481 servants per person, as measured in terms of kilowatts of disposable energy, poverty is not being cured. Trying to fix poverty by wealth transfers alone is yet another case of what I call trying to lift the gross national product with a set of tongs. Some seeds fall on stony ground, as we are reminded by Jesus in another context.

Dear Ottawa Citizen

Dear Ottawa Citizen:

I once ran into a Webster. You may recall the rich fellow who owned or ran the Globe and Mail, I can never remember which. Maybe his dad owned it and he ran it, back in the 1980s. We were chatting on the deck of the Club when I adverted to the paucity of comic strips in the then Globe and Mail.  I said that the comic strip contains more concentrated thought than found in op-ed pieces and reportage. He looked at me as if I had emitted a loud  fart.  The conversation did not last long. He clearly thought me a lesser species of human for believing as I did. And I thought him a tedious little pill, and much of the reason why the Globe was then so dreadful. (It is only slightly less so today).

So I will not take up much of your time either, for I still maintain that a good comic strip expresses deeper, more concentrated, and more amusing thought than almost all editorial content, except maybe Robert Fulford, George Jonas, or, on a good day, Conrad the Magnificent. I maintain that George Will, or George Orwell, might come close to Garfield on a good day or Shoe (now resurrected).

Clearly the people who redesigned the Ottawa Citizen thought that we would not notice the poverty of the comic strips that have largely replaced the better ones that went before them. And just as clearly the people who did this are like cooks who cannot taste  food, wine critics who hate wine, dreadful dreary post-Calvinist anhedonic, secular humanist dweebs without wit, taste or humour. Recognize yourselves?

Do you think I actually read your newspaper for the views of Kate Heartfield? I have read 100 times more serious books than she has lived years, and that is no stretch. As to the rest of your columnists, I can get them in the National Post, and if I can’t, I shall just invite Brian Lee Crowley over to dinner.

No, the chief pleasure of your paper was the morning comic strips. At their best they were good for about three hoots and a guffaw. On a bad day, a tight smile or two.

So, to make up for the comic shortage, I have discovered the most wonderful site on the Intertubes. It is the Seattle-Times’ general comics page, where, thanks to programming languages which I do not have to know, I can get Garfield, The Wizard of Id, Sally Forth, Dilbert, Doonesbury and many more for a) free and b) without subscribing to your paper. And, what’s more, I can get them without having to recycle newspaper by stepping outside in February and stuffing the always inadequate recycling box at -10C in my slippers, pajamas and overcoat  before the almost equally annoying garbage service comes every two weeks. I shudder to recall taking the paper recycling to the curb on garbage day this past winter.

You have also eliminated the New York Times’ Sunday crossword which, by the same token, I can get at the Seattle-Times, for free.

So I am asking myself, why do I need a physical paper? To support local journalism? To support my local community? To please everyone but myself? How many journalists and newspapers are necessary? I am already hyper-informed by the Intertubes.

My cable television subscription just took a huge hit thanks to Netflix. You are next.

Slowly I am being drawn into the implications of the Internet. As a friend once said, I want ONE electronic subscription that brings me the Globe and Mail, the Post, the Toronto Star, and a local paper, the Daily telegraph, the Manchester Guardian, and so on, with full rights to copy them. Not six. Not 12. One subscription.

Who could have foreseen the implications of TCP/IP? And the world wide web?

I digress. I am cancelling my Ottawa Citizen subscription. You can, I suppose, fire Heartfield or the person who cut the comic strips and pour their salaries and benefits into more and better comic strips, but you will have to make the announcement fast. My forty year long association with you is about to end.

Thank you  for causing me to change.





Fat Tony advises the Ontario electorate

Well folks, one of these days the call will come from New York. Mssrs. Samuelson, D’anunzio, McWilliams  and Feinberg, your four leading lenders, are getting a little anxious about the 288 billion dollars you owe them. Revenues are down, expenditures keep on increasing and the debt is reaching levels that alarm people whose smallest unit of money is $500 million. They would like to talk to you. It is your fifth week in office and your loans are coming up for reconsideration. Off you go to the Big Apple. On the 89th floor of Plutocrat Towers your four leading bankers have overcome their normal distaste for one another and for the Sherman Anti-Trust Act to meet in the same room. They are there to give you the news, which is that your credit is cut off unless you do something now. Whaddya mean now? I mean by Friday they want to hear what your plan to rescue the Ontario economy is. It is Tuesday. They set the meeting for 10am so you would have to get up at 5 am to make your flight. They were quite specific.

It happened to Chretien; it will happen to you. Oh, you think Chretien was inspired to cut Canada’s spending because he converted to Adam Smith? Fuck that. He got the call from Wall Street. He had been advised for quite a while in the Wall Street Journal about the northern peso.He got the message.

It will happen to Hudak, that nice dyke lady (what’s her name?) or to Andrea the fat Croat. The only uncertainty is which one.of them. The call will come from New York City and that will be it. Over. Finito. Pay up.

The only difference between that grinning Hudak guy and the other two broads is that he knows he is going to get the call if nothing is done; Andrea the Croat and the nice dyke lady have not got a clue yet. The people who really run the world are going to start to be concerned, and when they say your interest rates will go through the roof they are in effect calling the loans.

At that point, who’re you gonna call?

You’re gonna call the finance minister and tell him or her to call his people in the department and whack 35% out of this year’s spending. 35 fucking percent. Got that? It will make Hudaks’ proposed 100,000 civil servants laid off over several years look like the benign course correction it is. This will be 100,000 civil servants this week. And maybe next week, too. You’ll need earth movers to bury the dead, for sure.

So take my advice, people. The next Premier of Ontario will either get that call or she will not. The one who does not get the call is the one who has already started to make the moves that prevent that call. You don’t want to take that call, but you must. They are your bankers and they own you. And if the nice dyke lady and Andrea the fat Croat don’t get the message, they soon will. Trust me.

Chretien was called in to Wall Street, and look what happened.

Fat Tony‘s advice is: don’t be a turkey. A turkey thinks every day is a great day to be a turkey, until one day the food stops and he is beheaded. Just because they are lending money to Ontario now, does not mean that Ontarians are not turkeys.


Bad science

As I have been wont to say, man-made global warming has been the new cholesterol. The Wall Street Journal reports:

The new study’s conclusion shouldn’t surprise anyone familiar with modern nutritional science, however. The fact is, there has never been solid evidence for the idea that these fats cause disease. We only believe this to be the case because nutrition policy has been derailed over the past half-century by a mixture of personal ambition, bad science, politics and bias.

Sound familiar? After cataloguing the bad or defective methodologies of the early studies (sample bias, inadequate samples, etc.) the Wall Street Journal article states:

But there was no turning back: Too much institutional energy and research money had already been spent trying to prove Dr. Keys’s hypothesis. A bias in its favor had grown so strong that the idea just started to seem like common sense. As Harvard nutrition professor Mark Hegsted said in 1977, after successfully persuading the U.S. Senate to recommend Dr. Keys’s diet for the entire nation, the question wasn’t whether Americans should change their diets, but why not? Important benefits could be expected, he argued. And the risks? “None can be identified,” he said.

In short, every attempt to get away from animal fats has led to the use of vegetable oils and other carbohydrates which, in turn, have had their own deleterious effects on human health, including obesity, cirrhosis of the liver and suicide (of all things!).

Seeing the U.S. population grow sicker and fatter while adhering to official dietary guidelines has put nutrition authorities in an awkward position. Recently, the response of many researchers has been to blame “Big Food” for bombarding Americans with sugar-laden products. No doubt these are bad for us, but it is also fair to say that the food industry has simply been responding to the dietary guidelines issued by the AHA and USDA, which have encouraged high-carbohydrate diets and until quite recently said next to nothing about the need to limit sugar.

“Seeing the economy grow weaker and people poorer under the influence of green energy policies has put warmists in an awkward position”.

Well not yet, anyway. They still are fanatically determined to save us from fossil fuels. Oh, an woodsmoke from stoves.


Exodus from France, exodus from Quebec

An interesting video news article on the exodus from France of the ambitious, the bright, and the monied. I observe that  Quebec has been going through the same, but that the exodus did not matter to the native population because it was composed mostly of Protestants and Jews (furriners). It took a while for the exodus to start among the ambitious, bright and monied among the French-Canadian populace, whom we can now observe in Toronto, Vancouver, and elsewhere.

If there is one thing we all hope for, for Quebec, it is that, when it separates, it will get real fast: 1) reduce its Marxist unions to impotence, and 2) adopt English as an official language. The opposite will happen at first, until the bills have to be paid. President Pierre-Karl Peladeau will smash a union or two.

BNN reports:

Montreal, home to Air Canada and Canadian National Railway Co., has seen the number of top 500 Canadian companies based in Quebec’s largest city decline to 75 in 2011 from 96 in 1990, according to the Fraser Institute, a Canadian research organization.

It would be interesting to know how many of Canada’s top 500 corporations were headquartered in Montreal in 1960. 40%? 50%? 60%?