Links to Consider, 8/22
Dorian Abbot on merit, fairness, and equity; Scott Alexander on susceptibility to conspiracy theories; Richard Samuelson on civil rights; Bari Weiss and Larry Summers
Dorian Abbot and others write,
We have proposed an alternative to DEI, which we call Merit, Fairness, and Equality (MFE), that aims to deliver on the promise initially made by DEI, namely unbiased selection (Abbot and Marinovic, 2021). MFE acknowledges that biases may affect a selection process and seeks to eliminate them, but maintains a strict meritocratic framework where every candidate is treated equally and fairly. Critically, MFE is concerned primarily with establishing fair processes, and would never try to enforce quotas or race preferences, nor would it restrict speech as DEI often does. In sum, MFE delivers on the promise that DEI made but cannot accomplish: it would reduce bias and lead to a fairer system, while maintaining strict academic standards, promoting freedom of expression, and advancing the core mission of universities.
Pointer from the FAIR substack, which has a number of other interesting links. I am trying to dial back my coverage of the Wokeness issues. But if you want to follow it from the anti-Woke point of view, the FAIR substack is one of your best choices.
Are religious people immune from conspiracy theories? Scott Alexander looks at evidence and concludes,
if someone tells you that people who don’t believe in God will believe in anything, please politely correct them that this is only true until the point where they 100% accept scientific materialist atheism, at which point they go back to mostly not being that gullible again.
Good research into the wrong question. I don't think that conspiracy theories are my main worry. I worry about all-consuming ideologies, like Marxism. Do non-believers need an all-consuming ideology, and is such an ideology more dangerous than a religion? My own view is that religion need not be an all-consuming ideology, and in fact it may help insulate people from adopting an all-consuming ideology.
Jim Crow forced us to suspend the presumption that private companies and institutions would make good-faith efforts to work through such tough cases (or even easy ones with regard to race). A free country must, however, make such trust the rule rather than the exception. If we cannot trust the people with such tasks, we are neither free nor democratic.
We have a civil rights enforcement complex that has turned into a self-licking ice cream cone, making up reasons to perpetuate itself.
Bari Weiss interviews Larry Summers. Lots of interesting short answers at the end. But there is this from Larry:
We have a large number of people who are estranged from our economy. In 1960, 5% of men were not working between the ages of 25 and 54. Today it’s more like 15%. If 15% of men are not working at any point in time, then a quarter of the people will have been out of work for a year or more over a four or five-year period. That’s destructive to the economy's productive potential. It’s destructive to their families. It’s destructive to the areas in which they live. It’s destructive to the moral fabric of our national life.
I’m very skeptical about UBI. I worry that it would crowd out other social legislation by being either trivial in magnitude or prohibitive in expense. I worry about UBI increasing the deep social cleavages in our economy between the elite that generates spectacular wealth and everyone else.
I don’t think he has the economic analysis correct. I continue to favor a low UBI at a national level (not enough income to live on), with local governments and charities filling in gaps for people who cannot work or who have very expensive illnesses.
More people need to understand the basic economics of the universal basic income. If you think that a UBI would discourage people from working, then you should oppose our current welfare programs even more strongly. They impose a much higher tax rate on the earnings of the working poor.
I like your backgrounder on UBI very much, particularly because it recognizes trade-offs and the reality that there is no perfect way to address poverty. Perhaps a UBI is best understood as a compromise position seeking a win-win for both the poor who get cash and opportunity instead of bureaucracy, and, for those who in addition value more efficient government spending by eliminating the morass of endlessly redundant government poverty programs. The transaction costs involved with a UBI are minimal and it is equal and across the board so it does not offer the political opportunities for buying voting blocs to divide and set against each other and patronage. UBI offers better outcomes for less money. Summers’ defense of the status quo and opposition to alternative compromise positions remind us that just as the economy consists of patterns of specialization and trade, majoritarian government consists of clientelistic patterns of patronage and political payoffs. The source of Summers’ demosphobia are transparent: it threatens these patterns which have profited him his entire career.
Nevertheless, the problem of workforce participation deserves thoughtful attention, more than simply eliminating the $100 bill. One unaddressed factor is that about half of all men not participating in the workforce have criminal convictions. The portion of the population with criminal records has skyrocketed over the decades: https://www.sentencingproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Americans-with-Criminal-Records-Poverty-and-Opportunity-Profile.pdf One wonders if a low versus a moderate UBI payment would have different impacts on criminal behavior? I rarely have an opportunity to concur with Alex Tabarrok so I am pleased to suggest that his “less prison, more policing” recommendation deserves more attention. Of course, it is worth noting that consensus and consociational democracies have generally lower crime rates as well as lower rates of incarceration and are generally much safer than majoritarian democracies like the USA:
“Among the most significant factors driving such high levels of safety include the educational levels of these populations, their levels of relative social welfare and wealth, and their effective criminal justice systems. Furthermore, the governments in these places do not carry out a significant degree of state-sponsored violence and, as such, set a good example. They lay the foundations for maintaining healthy relationships with their citizens. Even in the U.S., which could be considered fairly dangerous for a Western First World economy nation, many of the same correlations as have been presented herein are also seen in the safest American cities and the safest states in the United States.”
Education appears to be a significant factor, so perhaps the most fundamental policy change we could make is to recognize that the null hypothesis has been rejected by substantive research demonstrating the to improve social outcomes across the board would be to employ science-based reading instruction: https://www.edweek.org/teaching-learning/video-what-the-science-says-about-how-kids-learn-to-read/2019/12 as has been recognized by dozens of states that have adopted requirements. However, given the relationship between the Democratic party and the teachers’ unions one can assume that patronage and cash (the Democrats showered the teacher’s with $750 billion last year (https://www.census.gov/library/stories/2021/05/united-states-spending-on-public-schools-in-2019-highest-since-2008.html ) a way to sabotage these efforts will be found because scientifically supported reading instruction apparently requires a little effort on behalf of teachers.
"Good research into the wrong question." Right, and many other commenters pointed out the same thing. Scott seemed uncharacteristically tone deaf and overly literal on what Chesterton was getting at with that one*. It's probably because Scott's an atheist, LW-Rationalist, etc.
Adherents of secular ideologies think their ideologies are 'objectively true' or 'science': derived as opposed to revealed, facts instead of opinions or superstitions or groupthink conformism. They tend to overlook their intellectual dependency on arbitrary metaphysical constructs (NB to LW-Rationalists, you can't just chant "The Sequences!" as if that deals with the issue, it doesn't.)
Adherents of traditional religions can notice the same patterns of individual and social psychology that tend to feedback into the evolution of secular ideology and its various real-life communities and institutions, and thus can appreciate the obvious "religiousness" of it, despite the secularist protests to the contrary.
In the weak version of Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, merely having and practicing the use of names to convey certain ideas or phenomena helps one to incorporate those conceptual categories as significant factors in one's world-model and makes it easier to notice examples in one's observations. If you only see in the visual range, you can't find other people at night further than a stone's throw. If you can see into the infrared, you can spot them clear as day a mile away. A religious person's theology typically has a whole mini-lexicon of such words to describe his own experience and observations of religious attitudes and life, and can use his infrared to see them in the secular ideology too.
Chesterton wrote from 1900 to 1936, a period of war and extreme ideological churn and what was effectively the suicide of Old Europe. Traditional religions and political ideologies were definitively displaced by the three modernist rivals of progressivism, communism, and fascism. He saw firsthand how when the forest built by tradition over millennia was cut down, all manner of noxious weeds would quickly fill the vacuum and take over the newly unexploited resource of souls adrift. Back when Nietzscheanism, Eugenics, and Socialism were at the height of their popularity for Western elites, he stood adamantly against all, indeed, one of his earlier works was, "Eugenics and Other Evils." Few of his contemporary public intellectuals saw it that way until after WWII.
*Handle's First Law is: "All the best quotes are apocryphal." Consistent with HFL, no one can actually find a clear example of Chesterton saying or writing this 'quote'. Closest anyone can get is that it seems exactly the kind of thing he would say, and that the earliest mentions of it by his fans were probably instances of them independently combining several other similar sayings and perhaps subconsciously applying some artistic license into similar pithy aphorisms, and repeating them with slight mutations until hitting on a particularly poetic and memorable expression.