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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

In Defense of Racism

My defense of racism is quite narrow.  I'm not going to try to defend any sort of institutional racism enforced by national or regional governments like slavery or Jim Crow laws.  That level of racism is unconscionable. Instead, I'm going to focus on the individual, and argue that the primary person the individual racist hurts is himself; and groups of racist individuals, themselves.

In the past I've pointed out that I'm a "romantic racist."  That is, I find Caucasian women more attractive than women of other races.  I call this racism where it counts the most and statistically, it seems that a lot of people of all races suffer from this particular variant of racism. This puts me clearly at level 6 in Bret's Hierarchy of Racism (BHR)tm. Because of my racism, I've reduced my range of opportunities by billions of women. Bummer! On the other hand, what have these billions of women lost? At worst, access to 1 decrepit old guy. In other words, nothing at all. Certainly in this case, racism hurt the racist and nobody else.

Let's say I move up the BHR from level 6 to level 4 and I discriminate, based on race, as either a prospective employee or a prospective employer.  It's the same thing as in the romantic version.  I've substantially reduced the pool of prospective companies or employees and have therefore damaged my prospects as an employee or my company's staff.  Nobody else has really lost anything at all, just access to one employee out of billions or one position at one company out of millions. The impact nearly completely only hurts the racist.

One thing that I find interesting in the racism debate is that in Japan, racism is perfectly legal (note the "JAPANESE People ONLY" in the sign below) and moderately widespread.

But there were plenty of people in Japan willing to take my Yen and so I was able to eat quite well (I love Japanese food, especially Japanese food in Japan).  The vendor pictured above (hypothetically) refused my business but his competitors were quite happy to serve me.  His loss was their gain.  His racism mainly hurt him. Note that his competitors may well be racist too, but for them, profit trumped racism, and that's a good thing.

It's an important point that people trade to make profit and trade brings people together. Indeed, economists use that line of thinking to cast doubt on the alleged gender and racial gaps in wages.  Why would a greedy businessman pass up the opportunity to hire a cheaper woman or minority if the return-on-investment of hiring them was higher than hiring a white male?  Greedy businessmen hiring women and minorities would then drive wages up to the point of having the same ROI as white men.  In other words, you can be greedy or racist/sexist but not both, or, more accurately, for any given hiring decision one motivator inherently trumps the other.  As long as enough businessmen are greedy (and it doesn't take many), wages reach parity.

It's hard to know exactly how pervasive racism is in Japan, but for the purposes of a thought experiment, assume that it's universal; all Japanese feel superior to everybody else. So who does that affect?

In this case, it probably affects the whole world by a little bit since it probably makes trade more difficult. But this is no different than a government restricting trade for whatever reasons governments restrict trade (possibly some of those reasons for some governments are racist).  And Japan would be the most adversely affected in this hypothetical example because it would have more difficulty getting crucial imports such as food and energy.

So now let's say there was a large immigration of whites into this hypothetically ultra-racist Japan.  Let's say those whites were totally racist against the Japanese as well as the Japanese being totally racist against the whites.  However, let's say there was no government institutionalized racism - everyone is still equal before the law.  Then it would be like two separate countries with restricted trade.  It would be better if the racism didn't exist, but it wouldn't be that big of a deal.  Everybody could still do pretty well in their portion of the resulting highly segregated society.

But what if the whites who immigrated started with nothing, perhaps because they were fleeing severe oppression somewhere else? Would they be stuck with nothing forever?  No, they wouldn't. There are a few points to consider for this argument:
  • Once upon a time, wealth and productivity were mostly based on land ownership.  That's simply not true anymore. Looking at the world's wealthiest people, very few, if any, are wealthy because they own a lot of land (for example Jobs, Gates, Ellison, etc.).  So the fact that the white's start out owning no land is immaterial.
  • There are several examples of countries and their peoples starting out with nothing and within two generations becoming wealthy with some help but also some hindrance from the rest of the world. Taiwan is good example.  Just after WWII, their GDP per capita was less than one-tenth that of the United States.  Now they're approaching parity with the United States.  They had help from the United States but a lot of hindrance from the mainland Chinese.  South Korea and Singapore (and Hong Kong to some extent) are similar examples.
  • Taiwan is a small speck of a country with no significant natural resources.  Innovation and hard work were the main factors of their success in building a wealthy society from nothing.
The example of Taiwan (and others) show that a people can pretty much start with nothing and catch up with the first world within a couple of generations.  Thus the whites in the hypothetical example could have caught up with the Japanese even starting with nothing.  Racism by itself, even group racism, as long as it's not institutionalized, cannot keep a people down.  They can always rise to the task and make their own productive and wealthy future.

Even in the case of institutionalized racism, the racist is also hurt according to the economist Tyler Cowen:
I would suggest that most living white Americans would be wealthier had this nation not enslaved African-Americans and thus most whites have lost from slavery too, albeit much much less than blacks have lost. For instance it is generally recognized that freer and fairer polities tend to be wealthier for most of their citizens. (We may disagree about what “fair” means for many issues, but slavery and its legacy are obviously unfair.) 
More specifically, many American whites benefited from hiring African-American labor at discrimination-laden discounted market prices, but many others lost out because it was more costly to trade with African-Americans. That meant fewer good customers, fewer eligible employees, fewer possible business partners, fewer innovators, and so on, all because of slavery and subsequent discrimination. The wealth-destroying effects are surely much larger here, even counting whites alone. And the longer the time horizon, the more likely the dynamic benefits from trade will outweigh the short-run benefits from discriminating against some class of others. 
Empirically, I do not think whites in slavery-heavy regions have had especially impressive per capita incomes.  And a lot of the economic catch-up of the American South came only when the region abandoned Jim Crow. 
In every case, the racist is always hurt.  In the case of non-institutionalized racism, the racist is hurt the most.

Given all that, I've concluded that calling someone racist is sort of like calling someone fat.  Just like being racist, eating too much primarily hurts the person doing the eating.  If the person's not fat, then calling him fatso is pretty silly.  If he is fat, it's just a childish and mostly meaningless and unhelpful insult.

Saturday, May 17, 2014


Commencement speakers have been bowing out left and right this year:
Haverford College on Tuesday joined a growing list of schools to lose commencement speakers to protests from the left, when Robert J. Birgeneau, a former chancellor at the University of California, Berkeley, withdrew from this weekend’s event. [...] 
Mr. Birgeneau bowed out a day after Smith College said that Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund, had withdrawn from its commencement because of protests. Condoleezza Rice, the former secretary of state, said this month she would not deliver the address at Rutgers University after the invitation drew objections. Last month, Brandeis University rescinded an invitation to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali-born activist, over her criticism of Islam.
In other academic news, in early May, Lennart Bengtsson, a Swedish climate scientist and meteorologist, joined the advisory council of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, a group skeptical of catastrophic climate change.  Bengtsson was unable to withstand the vitriol that came his way as a result of his new association. Regarding this he wrote:
I have been put under such an enormous group pressure in recent days from all over the world that has become virtually unbearable to me. If this is going to continue I will be unable to conduct my normal work and will even start to worry about my health and safety. I see therefore no other way out therefore than resigning from GWPF. I had not expect[ed] such an enormous world-wide pressure put at me from a community that I have been close to all my active life. Colleagues are withdrawing their support, other colleagues are withdrawing from joint authorship etc. 
I see no limit and end to what will happen. It is a situation that reminds me about the time of McCarthy. I would never have expecting anything similar in such an original peaceful community as meteorology.
He sounds like a bit of a wimp to me, but still, his situation is also possibly indicative of the intolerance of opposing views that exists all over the world, both on the left and right, especially in the academic world.

This all reminds me of the following riddle:
Question: What's the opposite of diversity? 
Answer: University.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Just a Thought

NFL cheerleaders revolt:

This January, rookie NFL cheerleader Lacy T. kicked things off when she filed a class action lawsuit against the Oakland Raiders, alleging that the team fails to pay its Raiderettes minimum wage, withholds their pay until the end of the season, imposes illegal fines for minor infractions (like gaining 5 pounds), and forces cheerleaders to pay their own business expenses (everything from false eyelashes to monthly salon visits). Within a month, Cincinnati Bengals cheerleader Alexa Brenneman had filed a similar suit against her team, claiming that the Ben-Gals are paid just $2.85 an hour for their work on the sidelines. And Tuesday, five former Buffalo Bills cheerleaders filed suit against their own team, alleging that the Buffalo Jills were required to perform unpaid work for the team for about 20 hours a week. Unpaid activities included: submitting to a weekly “jiggle test” (where cheer coaches “scrutinized the women's stomach, arms, legs, hips, and butt while she does jumping jacks”); parading around casinos in bikinis “for the gratification of the predominantly male crowd”; and offering themselves up as prizes at a golf tournament, where they were required to sit on men’s laps on the golf carts, submerge themselves in a dunk tank, and perform backflips for tips (which they did not receive). The Buffalo Jills cheerleaders take home just $105 to $1,800 for an entire season on the job.

Once I got over the shock and horror that cheerleaders had anything to do with gratifying a predominantly male crowd -- I needed two fainting couches, a damp cloth and a powder -- and once again had control of my faculties, this occurred to me: Cheerleaders, if you don't like the pay, why don't you just quit and take your bounteous talents elsewhere?

There’s another reason it’s taken so long for the cheerleaders to speak up: feminism. Professional cheerleaders have always presented a dilemma for the traditional feminist movement. On the one hand, feminism is committed to fighting for fair pay for women in all areas where they are discriminated against because of their gender. On the other hand, this particular kind of labor—one where women, not men, are enlisted to jiggle their assets at the local golf tournament—suggests another kind of gendered exploitation, and one that’s hard for some feminists to rush to defend. (Headlines about the recent spate of cheerleader lawsuits may focus on the scandalous details, but looking sexy for men is a feature of the job, not a bug.) Lately, it seems the feminist movement has caught up to the cause; it’s no longer particularly controversial to stand up for the legal rights of the women who perform work that nevertheless fails to reflect the ideal, gender-equitable society.

Whenever a phrase like "... ideal, gender equitable society" lurks, re-education camps are not far behind.

Here is proof that not all cheerleaders are the falsely conscioused dim bulb tools of the hetero-normative patriarchy that all ideal gender equitable feminists know them to be:

[One] former Raiderettes cheerleader ... thinks these lawsuits are a feminist conspiracy to attempt to end cheerleading for good.

Thursday, May 08, 2014


Based on output, it seems Claire Cain Miller has been stuck with the #WarOnWymyn beat. Her latest offering is Yes, Silicon Valley, Sometimes You Need More Bureaucracy

Viewed as a target, IT moves so quickly the reptilian minds that make up state and federal politicians and operatives simply haven't been able to keep up. Consequently, IT has become something akin to a crash test dummy for regulatory opportunity-cost tradeoffs.

So far, very little regulation has yielded lots of opportunity. Still, it isn't beyond the realm of reason that government imposed regulation, on balance, be better. There are, after all, good cases to be made for regulations preventing the free-rider problems that plague libertarianism, tout court.

Apparently, the norm for IT startups is to do IT, and put HR on disregard:

The Stanford Project on Emerging Companies, a longitudinal study of 200 Silicon Valley start-ups during the first dot-com boom, found that tech entrepreneurs gave little thought to human resources. Nearly half of the companies left it up to employees to shape the culture and perform traditional human resource tasks. Only 6.6 percent had the type of formal personnel management seen at typical companies.

Bureaucratic H.R. is “loathed” by engineers because it adds costs and slows decision-making, the leaders of the study, James N. Baron and Michael T. Hannan, wrote in a paper in California Management Review.

In a seeming contradiction to that freewheeling attitude, Ms. Miller notes that "Yet a human resource department is essential. The two found that companies with bureaucratic personnel departments were nearly 40 percent less likely to fail than the norm, and nearly 40 percent more likely to go public — data that would strike many Silicon Valley entrepreneurs as heresy."

Perhaps. Other results muddy the picture somewhere between a bit and a lot, and certainly don't substantiate Ms. Miller's assertion that HR departments are "essential". And she should note that quoting a professor at the Yale School of Management about how essential management is probably doesn't qualify as the top story of the day.

Where this turns into another battle in the #WarOnWymyn is with GitHub:

The web service, for sharing and collaborating on software code, has been under fire after a female engineer named Julie Ann Horvath quit and described a culture toward women of bullying and disrespect.

Hovarth's side of the story, very briefly summarized, is that she had a hard time getting used to the culture, its aggressive communication, and "… how little the men she worked with respected and valued her opinion." Accordingly, she decided she was being ostracized solely on account of her gender. Other issues — comprising about 75% of the whole story — came from the wife of one of GitHubs co-founders bullying her, living with a male co-worker, and boorish behavior from another co-worker she had spurned. Oh, and men ogling female employees who were hula-hooping at the office.

To the extent that male co-workers demeaned her simply because of her gender,* then that is indeed reprehensible. If that is what happened, then Ms. Miller has a point — maybe IT startups do need HR departments to step on rank sexism.

But wars have more than one side. Some environments are both competitive and largely, if not exclusively, male. Men are pack animals. One of the consequences is hostility to those who don't, for reasons of personality or competence, fit in with the pack. In previous lives where the environment was both competitive and male, I saw, and was part of, packs that quickly, and with no regard for anyone's feelings, shunned those who didn't fit. At the time they were all white males, so the pack was hardly cutting any slack with regard to "privilege".**

So it could well be that her GitHub coworkers, being in a competitive environment, and largely male, did what packs do, and turned on someone who couldn't hack the program.

If so, then Ms. Miller's thesis that IT startups need HR departments really amounts to a #WaronMen. Men in a male environment must conform to women's tender sensibilities, because maleness is de facto wrong. Yet that is a conclusion devoid of an argument. If that is the way men congenitally react to those who don't fit in, or lack merit, regardless of gender, then that is no more or less "right" than demanding concessions to female sensibilities.

Oh, and perhaps the hula-hooping women were getting exactly the reaction they wanted.

*An intra-GitHub anonymous messaging system included this comment "Internally, 'Queen' [Hovarth] has a history of RAGING against any professional criticism. Leadership has stood idly by while she lied about contributions, threw hardworking coworkers under the bus (again and again) and spread vicious rumors about women at work and in the community."

Hovarth's degree is a BA in Creative Writing from the University of San Francisco. That doesn't mean she wasn't qualified to be a programmer; if there is any realm that rewards autodidacts, programming is it. However, and probably because I'm a woman h8r, I think the odds are she wasn't any good at her job.

** In subsequent lives, where the environment remained the same, but included a few women, shunning women who weren't hacking the program was far more circumspect than for men.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

The Loss of Collective Imagination

One of the things that bothers me about the ever growing governments of the world is that people are losing the ability to even imagine alternatives to the State, to imagine non-governmental solutions to problems, to imagine how to get by without the State.  The economic historian Robert Higgs describes the situation as follows:
Familiarity may indeed, as the saying goes, breed contempt, but it also breeds a sort of somnolence. People who have never known anything other than a certain state of affairs ... have a tendency not to notice it at all, to relate it, so to speak, as if they were sleepwalking through it. Such is the situation of modern people in relation to the state. They have always known it, and they take it completely for granted, regarding it as one might regard the weather: whether it brings rain or sunshine, lightning bolts or soothing spring breezes, it is always there, an aspect of nature itself [...]
where that "somnolence" is
... the ideological “hypnosis” (as Leo Tolstoy characterized it) that keeps most people from being able to imagine life without the state ...
I was considering this inability "to imagine life without the state" recently because of a discussion on an email list of friends from MIT that I'm part of.  It started with the following excerpt:
Professor Mazzucato documents the leading role of the government in, for example, “all the technologies which make the iPhone smart,” including the Internet, wireless systems, global positioning, voice activation and touch-screen displays. That is not to detract from Apple’s role, but to put it into context. Without government, the technological revolution that has allowed iProducts to exist would not have happened. [emphasis added]
The implication, though not the explicit wording, is that there can be no major technology innovation without government. Those systems were all (at least partially) developed for defense applications, so perhaps they would have been developed on a different timeline, but it seems impossible to me, given the commercial value of communication that comparable technologies would never have happened without government.

Even more disconcerting to me, was the enthusiastic agreement of my MIT friends with Professor Mazzucato.  Here are a couple of the responses from the MIT crowd:
I can’t think of anything good (in the sense of general welfare) that could have happened if it weren’t for government interference.
 Nothing good without government. He can't imagine even one thing. Ever.
Without the Internet as we know it we might all be dialing into AOL.
Here's my (snarky) response to this last one:
Because nobody would've invented anything else?  UUCP couldn't've evolved into a P2P network?  Cable companies wouldn't've wanted to play and invented cable modem broadband?  Phone companies wouldn't've bothered to invent something like DSL?  The concepts of URLs and HTML are really so complicated that without the government, nobody could've come up with something else to fill the void? 
All that demand there, all that money there, and nobody would've risen to the occasion to fill it, and we'd still be stuck with just dialing into AOL.
That would indeed've been quite a market failure.
But more than a market failure, it would be an unbelievable failure of imagination.  And I find it an astounding failure of imagination to not be able imagine alternate paths that technology and history could take.  We are definitely being transformed from clever foxes to the stupid herd of sheep, in part, because of the ever growing State that is our shepherd.  Transformed from thinking individuals to Higgs' entranced zombies.

A third comment worried me yet more:
Local governments would never reach that height [of sequencing the human genome]. Neither would any corporation ...
And here's (part of) my response to that one:
The word "height" triggers, in my mind, the example of the Great Pyramid of Giza.  Clearly, it couldn't've been built without the full focus of the government at that time.  It was probably considered to be extremely important by the rulers of the time.  It was the tallest man-made structure in the world for nearly 4 millennia and the world remains amazed by this marvel to this day. 
Nobody knows for sure how it was built, but there were clearly a LOT of workers (tens of thousands), who may or may not have been slaves (and "slave" may have had a bit of a fuzzy definition back then).  That means a HUGE proportion of the resources of the society were dedicated to building the marvel.
It seems to me to be a clear example of a very successful government project, and one that couldn't possibly have been done any other way. 
And yet...
Is that really the goal and destiny of humanity?  To reach new and ever higher heights?  
To collectively band together to pour ever more resources into increasingly grand and amazing projects?  For those of us, who in the natural order of such a collective are towards the bottom of the metaphorical pyramid, to be happy enough with our lot and support such things?
Perhaps that really is or ought to be the direction of humanity - for the elite to deploy resources as they see fit and for the rest of us to go along and be proud of whatever accomplishments are achieved.
And yet...
That approach is at least somewhat in conflict with Liberty.  There can, of course, be a balance struck between Liberty and collective achievement, but more of one does pretty much mean less of the other.
I am a little bit inspired by the Great Pyramid.  I am a little bit inspired by the horrible awe of the results of the Manhattan Project.  I am a little bit inspired by going to the moon.  I am a little bit inspired by the sequencing of the human genome.  And so forth.
But, personally, I'm very much inspired by the concept of Liberty and would happily forego many of those government successes for more Liberty.
I hope that one day we can find a balance between Liberty and collective achievement that makes us all happy and fulfilled enough and enables us to all live in harmony.
And beyond Liberty, I hope we can find the balance between collective achievement and imagination since without imagination we are not truly human, in my opinion.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Conceptually Challenged

From the New York Times, The Problem with Free Health Care.

A woman over 40 can have a free screening mammogram. But if she notices a breast lump and goes to her doctor to have it evaluated, she’ll pay for a diagnostic mammogram.

There are ten other instances in the op-ed, every one of them demonstrating, just like Phil Robertson and "racist", the ongoing Progressive #WarOnWords.

Quote About PC

Richard Fernandez writing about the Sterling brouhaha and other topics:
Political correctness is not interested in what you actually are. It is only interested in how you look. ...  There is not — nor was there ever — any intention for PC to purge the human heart of racial hatred or personal vileness, though that is its ostensible purpose. Codes governing hate speech are not meant to suppress hate. They are meant to suppress speech.
I would love for Sterling to sue Silver and the NBA and in discovery dredge up all the racist, sexist, and generally nasty remarks by all of the owners, staff, and players of the NBA.

And then let he who is without sin cast the first stone.  If that were the case, call me crazy, but I don't think many stones would be cast.