Monday, May 22, 2017

California's Single-Payer Delusion

I somehow managed to miss Colorado's rejection of a single-payer system by a stupendous 80-20% margin in last November's election, with overall tax hikes that would have amounted to a 7% increase on employers and 3% on employees. This followed Vermont's quiet rejection of single-payer on cost grounds back in 2014. Apparently this hasn't fazed California lawmakers, who continue to pretend that the most politically popular fantasy among naive Democrats isn't also impossibly expensive. Particularly, they appear to be soft-pedaling the reality that their proposed system will dwarf all other state expenditures by a factor of nearly four, leaving me to wonder who they will bludgeon to make the whole thing work.

Look, I get it — medicine is expensive, customer service sucks, and nobody can figure out pricing. But that doesn't mean shoveling the mess onto the state will fix those problems. It's not only naive to believe as much, it's incomprehensible: you can't fix costs without dealing with the physician shortage, patent abuse and regulatory moats, and a mess of other, related problems. Single-payer is basically saying, "hey, those things are terrible — and we should totally pay those guys their extortionate fees so nobody at the point of sale has to." It turns Martin Shkreli from a robber baron into just another guy making money in medicine.

Monday, April 17, 2017

A Useful Summary Of Evolved Sex Differences In Animals

It's pretty rare to hear the words "feminist" and "evolutionary biologist" in the same sentence, let alone about the same person, but Suzanne Sadedin apparently wears both labels. She recently contributed a very good bibliography and summary of evolutionist thought on sex roles as they appear in nature at Quora. Excerpt (edited to add hyperlinks for footnotes):
  • Men and women are very similar neurologically, and the distributions of gender-correlated traits fall on a continuum; hardly anyone has a purely male-like or purely female-like brain [2]. Some brain areas are a bit larger in men, some in women. Overall brain size is larger in men, but in similar proportion to body size [3].
  • There are no consistent gender differences in average IQ, though male variance is higher [4]. Sex-specific differences in certain abilities tend to show up in studies [5], but can often be eliminated by avoiding certain biasing cues [6].

  • The term patriarchy, as used by contemporary feminists, often seems kind of meaningless. I think when we talk about patriarchy, what we’re really getting at is the re-emergence of social hierarchies that resulted from sedentary farming starting around 10K years ago. Individuals in sedentary communities were better able to control and monopolize resources, including women. This led to greater specialization, technological innovation, and social inequality [15].
 The comments range from interesting to hilarious to predictable; the many people claiming that looking to nature, and especially, to our near relatives among the great apes is an example of "the naturalistic fallacy" amounts to a hand wave. (Look, guys, if you're going to bring up outliers like bonobos, or animals far removed even from mammals like the angler fish and passerine birds, maybe your argument isn't that strong.) I disagree — in some cases, strongly — with her conclusions, especially depending on what her definition of sexual equality would look like. One that doesn't take into account evolved preferences (e.g. the perverse results in Sweden where strong child-care and time off guarantees have resulted in the most sex-segregated labor pool in the OECD) and abilities ("male variance is higher" in measured intelligence is a Clue) will produce an unachievable definition of equality, as witness the chimerical wage gap. Overall, the title piece is a good survey, and something I'll be coming back to again.

Andew Sullivan's Hillary Postmortem

An excellent essay by Andrew Sullivan on the subject of Hillary Clinton's camp followers. Excerpt:
Clinton had the backing of the entire Democratic establishment, including the president (his biggest mistake in eight years by far), and was even married to the last, popular Democratic president. As in 2008, when she managed to lose to a neophyte whose middle name was Hussein, everything was stacked in her favor. In fact, the Clintons so intimidated other potential candidates and donors, she had the nomination all but wrapped up before she even started. And yet she was so bad a candidate, she still only managed to squeak through in the primaries against an elderly, stopped-clock socialist who wasn’t even in her party, and who spent his honeymoon in the Soviet Union. She ran with a popular Democratic incumbent president in the White House in a growing economy. She had the extra allure of possibly breaking a glass ceiling that — with any other female candidate — would have been as inspiring as the election of the first black president. In the general election, she was running against a malevolent buffoon with no political experience, with a deeply divided party behind him, and whose negatives were stratospheric. She outspent him by almost two-to-one. Her convention was far more impressive than his. The demographics favored her. And yet she still managed to lose!
The bonus bit at the end about the incoherence of those insisting all Trump voters were racist (a topic I recently wrote about) is equally good, if briefer. 

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Vacant, Commercial Symbolism Of "Fearless Girl" (And How She Could Be Forced To Go Away)

I wanted to pass on an excellent essay by Noah Rothman at Commentary about "Fearless Girl", the statue in New York City opposing the Wall St. bull:

Via Wikimedia
 Rothman notes that
The statue’s alleged purpose—both stated by its sponsors and plainly evident in the figure’s demeanor—is to present a challenge to orthodoxy. It is a call to address the perception that there are not enough women amid the rarefied ranks of Fortune 500 boards. This audacious assault on the staid prejudices of the gatekeepers of wealth and power in America was sponsored by the exclusive Boston-based investment services company State Street Global Advisors and approved by the New York City Parks Department. If the aim of this artistic display was to challenge intractable conventions and change minds, they chose an audience that has been uniquely receptive to their message.
Ironic, then, that
Only 17 percent of State Street’s leadership positions (five out of 28) are women. In terms of gender representation—a metric that measures neither an employee’s aptitude nor benefit to their employer—SSGA trails the average S&P 500 firm.
One might ask, therefore, if this isn't a sort of very public way to atone for perceived sins, true or false. It represents tribal affiliation gone mad, yet another public exercise of empty virtue signaling. A more interesting question is, will the girl stick around? Techdirt notes that bull statue creator Arturo Di Modica is trying to get rid of the girl using a novel (in the United States) legal theory: that of moral rights.
Importantly, though, this is interesting timing as it relates to moral rights. The US has been correct in (mostly) resisting putting in place a moral rights regime, and focusing on copyright as an economic right. Unfortunately, at this very moment, the Copyright Office is "studying" the issue of whether or not moral rights should be expanded. The first round of public comments has closed (you can read those comments if you'd like), but response comments are open until May 15th. Given this example of moral rights gone mad, perhaps it might be useful for the Copyright Office to be reminded of how moral rights might be used to stifle and stamp out important expression
The story goes on with an update by law professor James Grimmelmann who claims "Di Modica probably has no legitimate moral rights claim either", which probably is just as well, but copyright maximalism knows few bounds. I would not be too surprised if someone makes a serious go at defending Di Modica's claim.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Trump Voters Are Racists Because Only Racists Would Vote For Trump

Possibly the dumbest thing ever published at The Intercept, "Top Democrats Are Wrong: Trump Supporters Were More Motivated by Racism Than Economic Issues" by Mehdi Hasan does nothing to advance the title thesis. Opening with the smirking "facts are stubborn things" line, he proceeds to bring none of those to bear, instead filling up with circular logic and appeals to authority (Philip Klinkner). And then there's the fallacy of the excluded middle:
Klinkner himself grabbed headlines last summer when he revealed that the best way to identify a Trump supporter in the U.S. was to ask “just one simple question: is Barack Obama a Muslim?”
Do all Trump voters (or even most) agree with that sentiment? Who knows! Klinkner appears not to be terribly interested in that question, only in pushing his thesis that racists voted for Trump. The answer to that question is obviously "yes". In the end, Hasan is stuck assuming his conclusion, using his proxy Klinkner (all emboldening below mine):
Defenders of the economy narrative have a “gotcha” question of their own: how can racial resentment have motivated Trump supporters when so many of them voted for Barack Obama, across the Rust Belt, in 2008 and 2012? “They’re not racists,” filmmaker Michael Moore passionately argued last November.  “They twice voted for a man whose middle name is Hussein.”

Klinkner, though, gives short shrift to this argument. First, he tells me, “most of them didn’t vote for Obama. There weren’t many vote switchers between 2012 and 2016.” Second, “working class whites shifted to Trump less because they were working class than because they were white.” Klinkner points out that in 2016, Clinton, unlike Obama, faced a Republican candidate who “pushed the buttons of race and nativism in open and explicit ways that John McCain and Mitt Romney were unwilling or unable to do.”
Yet, where is the data underlying this? "A vote for Trump must be racist because racists voted for Trump" fails the hasty generalization test, but that's the sum total of his argument. It's a convenient hat rack for identity politicians, but as sound politics go, a disaster.

Update: A couple non-dumb essays on this subject, the first from Andrew Doyle at Spiked:
Identity politics, as it currently operates, is a mostly tokenistic endeavour. Too often it assures progression for women and ethnic-minority people who already come from a privileged background. It’s very easy for the middle classes to make their scattershot assumptions of ‘straight white male privilege’, to pretend that opportunity has nothing to do with socioeconomic status and everything to do with race, gender and sexuality. It’s a convenient method by which they can assert their own virtue while continuing to benefit from an inherently unequal economic system.

The election of Donald Trump should have been a wake-up call for the left. Instead, we have seen a doubling down on the very strategies that guaranteed his victory in the first place. Trump supporters are scorned and derided with increased vehemence, Brexit voters are still smeared as racist, and the working classes are urged to know their place and vote in accordance with the instructions of their technocratic masters. It would also appear that the word ‘Nazi’ has been redefined as ‘anyone with whom the left disagrees’. I’ve never met a Nazi, although I’m assured by many of my liberal friends that you’re never more than six feet away from one.
Next, Mark Lilla in the NYT:
One of the many lessons of the recent presidential election campaign and its repugnant outcome is that the age of identity liberalism must be brought to an end. Hillary Clinton was at her best and most uplifting when she spoke about American interests in world affairs and how they relate to our understanding of democracy. But when it came to life at home, she tended on the campaign trail to lose that large vision and slip into the rhetoric of diversity, calling out explicitly to African-American, Latino, L.G.B.T. and women voters at every stop. This was a strategic mistake. If you are going to mention groups in America, you had better mention all of them. If you don’t, those left out will notice and feel excluded. Which, as the data show, was exactly what happened with the white working class and those with strong religious convictions. Fully two-thirds of white voters without college degrees voted for Donald Trump, as did over 80 percent of white evangelicals.
You keep on keeping on, guys. I'll be here with the popcorn.

Monday, April 3, 2017

"Rule Of Law" When It's Convenient

So, the Los Angeles Times now recognizes that Donald Trump is a menace to the nation, a serial liar and a narcissist, with immense power. It is all but impossible to read their lugubrious, petulant editorial with anything other than a strong dose of schadenfreude. Where was their call that "even the president must submit to the rule of law" when Obama was symbolically evading the Constitution's demand that the Paris Accords must be submitted to the Senate for approval? Or when Kamala Harris rejected Neil Gorsuch's nomination to the Supreme Court because "Judge Gorsuch has consistently valued narrow legalisms over real lives", i.e. he actually applies the law as written vs. how people like Harris would like it to read? Or Hillary Clinton's famous rejection of the First Amendment's "Congress shall make no law" in favor of stifling criticism of her during an election cycle? It's clear that where the law, legal process, and actual accountability to constituencies get between the Democrats and their preferred policies, these they view as nothing more than encumbrance to evade. The hard work of actually convincing people remains undone, and to hear the Times tell it, has no place in their future; one must never speak ill of the government or its agents lest they stoke "public distrust of essential institutions". Indeed, Democrats whooped it up when Obama acted as a king, creating law by executive diktat:
Thanks a lot, liberals. It's all well and good that Joe Biden is now lecturing us that "the worst sin of all is the abuse of power," but where the hell was he—and where were you—for the past eight years, when the president was starting wars without Congressional authorization, passing major legislation with zero votes from the opposing party, and ruling almost exclusively through executive orders and actions?

Mostly exhorting Obama to act "unilaterally" and "without Congress" on terrorism, immigration, guns, and whatever because you couldn't dream of a day when an unrestrained billionaire reality-TV celebrity would wield those same powers toward very different ends. Hell, in the early months of Obama's presidency, The New York Times's Thomas Friedman held up China's "one-party autocracy" as the model to emulate.
It is impossible now to pity them, and just as hard to take seriously calls for a return to the "rule of law" they would forego the instant it became inconvenient.