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Monday, March 30, 2015

What can you tell us?

This article about  Brazil appeared online last week:

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Millions of people are out demonstrating, asking for president Dilma Rousseff’s resignation. The endemic corruption of the leftist regime is being denounced by the masses that have taken to the streets, but largely ignored by the media elites, which are connected to those neo-Bolshevik channels financially supported by the Putin autocracy and its friends. The Sao Paulo Forum with its radical exhortations continues its maneuvers of hypnotizing the public opinion. Lies abound, but are starting to not be believed anymore. Protesters are being slandered as “American agents”, “spies”, “fascists” etc. Yet, less people than ever buy into these slanders. 
The protests are being organized by a grassroots initiative with an openly liberal (non-leftist) orientation – the Free Brazil Movement (MBL). Signatures are being gathered for Dilma Rousseff’s dismissal. It turns out that philosopher Olavo de Carvalho’s anti-totalitarian ideas have taken root in Brazil. Olavo, a remarkable social thinker execrated by the Left, knows a great deal about Marxism and revolutionary utopianism in general, at any rate a far greater deal than Dilma and her followers. He is familiar with the famous 11th thesis on Feuerbach: “Philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways, the point is to change it.” The world is changing in Brazil. 
The hyper-corrupt bureaucracy of the Workers’ Party, so outrageously obvious during the World Cup in 2014, is coming face to face with a resurgent civil society. What is being foreshadowed, it seems, is a peaceful, non-violent revolution. Marxist revolutions are explosions of violence. But not the anti-totalitarian ones. It is now clear that millions of Brazilians feel the need to expose twaddle, nonsense, irresponsible foolishness, cynical demagoguery masquerading as a springboard for collective bliss.

Clovis, what is your sense of things?

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Not just the shoes

A recent Nick Gillespie interview of Camille Paglia provided some interesting perspectives.  I like the points that blogger Stuart Schneiderman lifted out on his Had Enough Therapy? blog:
If universities should not be in the business of policing student behavior, they should be in the business of forming young minds. There, according to Paglia, they have failed miserably: 
Now, I've encountered these graduates of Harvard, Yale, the University of Pennsylvania, and Princeton, I've encountered them in the media, and people in their 30s now, some of them, their minds are like Jell-O. They know nothing! They've not been trained in history. They have absolutely no structure to their minds. Their emotions are unfixed. The banality of contemporary cultural criticism, of academe, the absolute collapse of any kind of intellectual discourse in the U.S. is the result of these colleges, which should have been the best, have produced the finest minds, instead having retracted into caretaking. The whole thing is about approved social positions in a kind of misty, love of humanity without any direct knowledge of history or economics or anthropology. 
A wondrous image: minds like jello. Insubstantial, unstructured, incapable of dealing with ideas … quivering with deep feeling about nothing in particular.

He excerpts many other worthwhile points and his post is a bit shorter than the full interview.  Some other points that I liked included:

Paglia: I am an equal-opportunity feminist. I believe that all barriers to women's advancement in the social and political realm must be removed. However, I don't feel that gender is sufficient to explain all of human life. This gender myopia has become a disease, a substitute for a religion, this whole cosmic view. It's impossible that the feminist agenda can ever be the total explanation for human life. Our problem now is that this monomania—the identity politics of the 1970s so people see everything through the lens of race, gender, or class—this is an absolute madness, and in fact, it's a distortion of the '60s.
reason: You're not saying that those things—race, class, and gender—which is kind of the holy trinity of contemporary cultural studies, but all of those things are important, and they all intersect in many ways.
Paglia: They are important.
reason: But you're essentially arguing that none of these explain things totally.
Paglia: That's right. These are techniques of social analysis I find very useful. That's the way I teach and write. Race, class, and gender? Absolutely! But the point is that Marxism is, as I argue in the introduction to my last booklet, is not sufficient as a metaphysical system for explaining the cosmos. It is very limited. Marxism sees only society, but we are much greater than that. There's nature, there's eternity, there's questions of mortality, which Catholic theology of the Middle Ages addresses far more profoundly then Marxism ever has.
A solid takedown of a simplistic class only analysis of the world makes sense to me.  Another area of agreement for me was the historical cluelessness of the American press:
Paglia: [As a] writer of cultural criticism, I find that I'm happiest when I'm writing for the British press, and I write quite a bit for The Sunday Times magazine in London. I find that the general sense of cultural awareness means that I can have an authentic discourse about ideas with international journalists from Brazil or Germany or Italy or Norway or Canada even—somewhat, but they have a P.C. problem themselves. I can feel the vacuum and the nothingness of American cultural criticism at the present time. It is impossible—any journalist today, an American journalist, you cannot have any kind of deep discussion of ideas.
reason: Is that just a kind of hyper-exaggeration of the American disease, which goes back to early American literary criticism, that we're people who come from nowhere and we don't care about the past. We're freed from the burdens of the past, but we don't care about the past.
Paglia: Yes, I think this is true. The past is always present in Europe. To the extent that you're in Berlin, you can still see the bullet marks on buildings from World War II. And it's a terrible burden to have that there. I think Americans are far more ingenious and open and daring. On the other hand...people abroad have a much more sophisticated idea about [politics and ideology in] Europe…
Finally, a point I couldn't find in the transcript but was in the video, was that there is no male-bashing in her feminism.  Equal rights and opportunities are the point, not a putdown of men.
On the whole, a presentation of many sensible ideas.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Trivia of the Day

Excerpt from a Marginal Revolution post:
An American male is 4,582 times more likely to become an Army general if his father was one; 1,895 times more likely to become a famous C.E.O.; 1,639 times more likely to win a Pulitzer Prize; 1,497 times more likely to win a Grammy; and 1,361 times more likely to win an Academy Award. Those are pretty decent odds, but they do not come close to the 8,500 times more likely a senator’s son is to find himself chatting with John McCain or Dianne Feinstein in the Senate cloakroom.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Lies, Damn Lies, and Government Statistics: Part II

At Marginal Revolution, economist Tyler Cowen asks: "How much has the U.S. poverty rate declined?" He notes two government statistics:
Official percent poor in 1964: 19.0%Official percent poor in 2013: 14.5%
He then notes that depending on which government statistics are used to derive "percent poor," such as using the PCE price deflator rather than CPI-U, you can get radically different results:
Adjusted percent poor in 2013: 4.8%
You can show anything you want using government statistics.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Left in a Sentence

Wisconsin: Unions Sue to Stop Law Halting Dues Collection

(AP) The state A.F.L.-C.I.O. and two local unions filed a lawsuit Tuesday seeking to at least temporarily block a new law barring unions from requiring workers to pay the equivalent of dues. The lawsuit, arguing that the law is unconstitutional, was filed in Dane County Circuit Court a day after Gov. Scott Walker signed the measure. A spokeswoman for Mr. Walker, a Republican, and Attorney General Brad Schimel, also a Republican, both said they were confident that the law would be upheld, just as federal courts have ruled in favor of such laws in Michigan and Indiana. The unions say that the law is an unconstitutional taking of their property without just compensation and that enforcement would cause them irreparable harm.

Emphasis added, perhaps unnecessarily.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Applying the lesson

In the comments to a recent post, Hey Skipper stated the following:

I could swear I've brought this up a couple times already: Left & Right are useless terms; instead we should use Collectivist & Individualist.

Old habits die hard.  In an attempt to change those habits, I thought it would be worth trying to apply this idea to a post by John Jay on one of his blogs:

Leftists Collectivists don't understand much 
Leftists Collectivists are people who know and understand a lot less than they think they do.  The classical example of that is of course in economics.  Even when they gained unfettered control of such vast countries as Russia and China, they made a hash of it.
At the time of the 1917 revolution, Russia was a rapidly modernizing country with railways snaking out across the land and a flourishing agricultural sector that made it a major wheat exporter.  After the revolution agricultural production dropped by about one third and right through the Soviet era Russia never managed to feed itself.  Europe's subsidized food surpluses were a Godsend to it.  A lot of those food surpluses went East. 
And in China, Mao's Great Leap Forward was an unmitigated disaster that achieved nothing but millions of deaths from starvation.  An understanding of economics as poor as Communist economics could hardly be a better proof that Leftists Collectivists are people who know and understand a lot less than they think they do. 
And what libertarian said this? “The bureaucracy is a parasite on the body of society, a parasite which ‘chokes’ all its vital pores…The state is a parasitic organism”. It was V.I. Lenin, in August 1917, before he set up his own vastly bureaucratic state.  He could see the problem but was quite incapable of solving it. 
And Leftists Collectivists understand people so badly that they judge everyone by themselves  (projection) -- leading to the generalization that to understand what is true of Leftists Collectivists you just have to see what they say about conservatives.  That is even true of Leftist Collectivist psychologists (i.e. around 95% of psychologists).
For example, a book by Leftist Collectivist psychologists called "The Authoritarian personality" (under the lead authorship of a prominent Marxist theoretician) was a huge hit among psychologists in the '50s and '60s and is still well-spoken of among them to this day.  The basic theme of the book was that conservatives are authoritarian.  What a towering example of projection!  It was written while the vastly authoritarian regimes in Russia and China were still extant and just after another hugely authoritarian socialist regime had collapsed, Hitler's.  Yet it was conservatives who were supposed to be authoritarian? 
The fact of the matter is that Leftism Collectivism is fundamentally authoritarian. Whether by revolution or by legislation, Leftists Collectivists aim to change what people can and must do. When in 2008 Obama said that he wanted to "fundamentally transform" America, he was not talking about America's geography or topography but rather about American people. He wanted them to stop doing things that they wanted to do and make them do things that they did not want to do. Can you get a better definition of authoritarianism than that? 
And remember Obama's 2008 diagnosis of the Midwest:
"You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. 
And it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations." 
That Midwesterners could be sincere Christians who need guns for self defence and hunting clearly did not figure in Obama's understanding of the Midwest -- and the remarks have become a byword for Leftist Collectivist incomprehension. To this day conservatives often sarcastically refer to themselves as "bitter clingers". As all the surveys show, conservatives tend to be happy people, not "bitter".  The uproar caused by  his uncomprehending remarks led Obama himself to backpedal. 
And the stock Leftist Collectivist explanation for all social ills --   It's due to poverty -- got really hilarious in the aftermath of the 9/11/2001 attacks on America by Osama bin Laden and his followers.  Leftists Collectivists insisted that bin Laden's hatred was also due to poverty.  It took some months before they could get it into their brains that bin Laden was actually a billionaire 
Leftism Collectivism is the politics of rage.  They see things about them that seem wrong to them but rather than seek to understand why that state of affairs prevails, they simply condemn it and propose the first  simplistic solution to the problem that comes into their heads -- usually some version of "MAKE people behave better".  They are incurious and impatient people and the destruction they can cause as a result is huge.
German philosopher Leibniz proposed many years ago that we live in "the best of all possible worlds" as a way of drawing attention to the fact that some good things necessarily have bad effects as well.  So stomping on the bad things will also destroy good things.  The whole of Leftism Collectivism is an example of that in action. To improve the world you first have to understand it.  Leftists Collectivists don't.
That's not a bad start, but it might take some more practice.

My youngest is home on break.  He was looking over my shoulder as I prepared this post.  His comment was, "that's a very opinionated piece."  I replied, "yes, but it's not wrong."  He agreed.

Friday, March 06, 2015

Lies, Damn Lies, and Government Statistics

Our favorite economic pundit, Paul Krugman (okay, maybe a wee little bit of sarcasm about "favorite"), writes: "My first chart shows wages of production and nonsupervisory workers in 2014 dollars; we have never gotten back to 1973 levels":

Scott Sumner, an economist who blogs at The Money Illusion, prior to seeing Krugman's chart wrote: "Here’s a graph showing hourly real wages, where I use the wage series excluding the higher paid managers.  I presume that’s the series people are discussing":

Screen Shot 2015-03-04 at 12.51.33 PM

Both are based on "Average Hourly Earnings of Production and Nonsupervisory Employees." Seems like they should have the same shape with a different scale.

It took me awhile to figure why they look so different. The following chart provides the answer:

Krugman used the Consumer Price Index (the red line above) in order to "normalize" wages. The CPI is:
an index of the variation in prices paid by typical consumers for retail goods and other items.
Sumner used the Personal Consumption Expenditures index (the green line above) to "normalize" wages. The PCE is:
A measure of price changes in consumer goods and services. Personal consumption expenditures consist of the actual and imputed expenditures of households; the measure includes data pertaining to durables, non-durables and services.
This example shows you can paint any picture you like about just about anything just by picking which statistics (especially when it comes to price indices) you choose to use. Stagnant wages? Sure. Rising wages? No problem. Whatever you want.