2015 May 24 Sunday
US Defense Secretary Carter Notices Iraqi Army Won't Fight

The Iraqi Army withdrew from Ramadi in the face of a much smaller fighting force.

"The Iraqi forces just showed no will to fight," he told CNN's State of the Union program. "They vastly outnumbered the opposing force, and yet they withdrew from the site."

What are the reasons for this continued terrible fighting performance? A number of possibilities come to mind. For example, the soldiers were not trying to protect the territories of their tribes. Why fight for something that does not help one's tribe? Or, hey, who are all these people in this fighting unit? They are from other tribes. Why should I fight to protect them? Or, hey, I only joined the Iraqi Army to get paid, not to put my life at risk. Why would I want to do that?

I wonder if the Iraqi government should use mercenaries. They could offer mercenaries bonuses for capturing specific cities. What would it cost to recapture Ramadi? What would Ghurkas charge? Or perhaps some aging white South African mercenaries. They just did a bang-up job against Boko Haram in Nigeria (which also has an army that can't fight). Or go east and recruit some South Korean and Taiwanese military veterans to take a couple of cities.

Lets be real. The Iraqi army isn't going to grow some big cojones. Price out the cost of mercs to do the job and get it done quickly. I'd go for Palmyra first just because I care more about ancient relics than who controls Fallujah or Ramadi. But whoever pays for the mercs can capture whatever cities they want to capture.

By Randall Parker 2015 May 24 07:34 PM 
Entry Permalink | Comments(6)
Will American Speech Rights Decay?

We've lost some freedoms to progressive reinterpretations of the US Constitution. The Commerce Clause, for example, has been reinterpreted to grant the US government much more extensive regulatory power. The Takings Clause has been gutted at the expense of private property rights. Free speech seems like the next most likely battleground over rights.

YouGov's latest research shows that many Americans support making it a criminal offense to make public statements which would stir up hatred against particular groups of people. Americans narrowly support (41%) rather than oppose (37%) criminalizing hate speech, but this conceals a partisan divide. Most Democrats (51%) support criminalizing hate speech, with only 26% opposed. Independents (41% to 35%) and Republicans (47% to 37%) tend to oppose making it illegal to stir up hatred against particular groups.

I expect erosion of speech rights in the United States because the nation will shift left in its Presidential choices and those future Presidents will make Supreme Court appointments that are much more leftward leaning. Academia has already become much more hostile to dissenting views. The judiciary will follow as the ideologues trained in academia get appointed to court benches.

By Randall Parker 2015 May 24 06:53 PM 
Entry Permalink | Comments(2)
Young Getting Parental Financial Help Into Their 30s

22% of 26-34 year olds still get financial help from their parents. Click thru to read more details.

The newest crop of workers graduated with record student debt, historically high unemployment rates, and scarce hope of being able to afford a starter home.

The question is what to do about our growing lower class? I say for a start lets not import anyone who lacks the skills to make at least $20 per hour once they arrive or even set the threshold even higher. We do not need and do not benefit from more low-skilled and totally unskilled labor. So fix immigration. That's actually a part of the problem we can do do something about.

As for a higher minimum wage: I am glad that some jurisdictions are raising minimum wage to $15 per hour. I hope a lot more will. Then we can see how the elites try to find ways to make the unemployed masses productive. Plus, it will cut out demand for illegal immigrant labor with little skills.

By Randall Parker 2015 May 24 11:35 AM 
Entry Permalink | Comments(5)
2015 May 23 Saturday
War Nerd Gary Brecher On Alawite Casualties, Motivation

The Alawite (SAA) army in Syria has done well given the small population it draws upon.

The fact that the SAA may eventually collapse isn’t really as interesting as the fact that this tiny minority sect’s army has lasted so long against a Sunni majority that could swarm it with sheer numbers, if the Sunni Syrian population was really as fierce as the media make them out to be.

He says the Sunni Revival is greatly exaggerated. A fairly small fraction of the Sunnis are making Jihad.

The whole essay is interesting. The Alawites are more motivated because they are desperate. They'd be better off seceding from the rest of Syria. But I do not know that the rest of Syria would let them.

Fear of genocide might drive a large fraction of Alawites to flee into Lebanon, and possibly destabilize Lebanon in the process.

My sympathy is with the Middle Eastern minorities that have to live under Sunni Arab majority or even Shia Arab majority rule. The minorities ought to be given their own territories broken off into new sovereignties. But that won't happen, except for the Kurds.

By Randall Parker 2015 May 23 10:15 PM 
Entry Permalink | Comments(1)
Warren Buffett On Brutal Truth About Poor

Warren does not think education can help a significant portion of the population become capable of earning more than a bare subsistence. This is coming from the most accomplished investor in the history of the world.

The remedy usually proposed for this mismatch is education. Indeed, a top-notch school system available to all is hugely important. But even with the finest educational system in the world, a significant portion of the population will continue, in a nation of great abundance, to earn no more than a bare subsistence.

...

The brutal truth is that an advanced economic system, whether it be geared to physical or mental skills, will leave a great many people behind.

Buffett prefers an expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit. But I think that's a mistake because of the moral hazard. People need to work to earn money. What should be done instead: subsidize their wages. What should also be done: stop the influx of illegal immigrants with few skills who compete against the minimum wage workers.

This problem is going to become far larger because the robots are coming and a move to enact $15 per hour minimum wage is going to accelerate that shift.

By Randall Parker 2015 May 23 08:16 PM 
Entry Permalink | Comments(1)
ISIS/Daesh Flag Auctioned In Sydney Australia Mosque

Raised thousands of dollars for the mosque.

They say the money raised is going to be used to promote peace and harmony. That's peace and harmony in the only way they would find acceptable: with Muslims ruling over non-Muslims as second class citizens or worse.

By Randall Parker 2015 May 23 02:24 PM 
Entry Permalink | Comments(0)
Over Half Of American Population Lives In Suburbs

Jed Kolko, chief economist of Trulia, looks at how people characterize their neighborhoods and compares that to neighborhood populaiton density. Reports of America's urbanization have been exaggerated.

Three cities of the largest 10 are more suburban than urban, based on our analysis of how people describe the neighborhoods where they live.

Official government data obscures how suburban America really is.

Cities that are majority suburban are the most rapidly growing.

Will autonomous electric cars make urban or suburban living more appealing? Autonomous cars will make commuting longer distances easier. But they'll also cut the cost of taxi service in cities and reduce the need for car ownership in cities.

What I also wonder about: Where will the poorest of the poor live as automation eliminates more of their jobs? Will they live in dense pack apartment buildings in suburbs? Or in shacks and RVs in rural areas? Some are living in RVs in Wal-Mart parking lots and move around to adjust to seasons.

By Randall Parker 2015 May 23 01:50 PM 
Entry Permalink | Comments(0)
2015 May 20 Wednesday
Net Effects Of High Minimum Wages?

While I expect LA's coming $15 minimum wage will spur robot development, improve the quality of local services, and reduce interactions between customers and service providers Megan McArdle thinks a high minimum wage will produce deadweight loss due to a loss of economic efficiency.

In the short run I think Megan is correct. But in the long run higher minimum wage will boost economic efficiency by speeding the development and spread of automation technologies. Also, in the short run and long run higher minimum wage will increase unemployment among the least skilled, least driven, and least talented. The relentless advance of computer hardware and software technology promise to do that anyway. But higher minimum wage will cause that to happen sooner.

What a much higher minimum wage will also do: gentrify cities that already have other local conditions attractive to gentrifiers. Such cities should gradually ratchet up their minimum wage to $20 per hour. This will drive the low skilled work to outside the city's boundaries along with the low skilled employees and their families. This will improve local school scores, lower crime, free up housing, and all this will attract the gentrifiers.

Ben Casselman points out that the cities raising their minimum wages to $15 have well above average living costs. The people who manage to continue to keep their jobs when their wages go up to $15 per hour will still be pretty poor.

What I'd do if I was running fast food joints around LA: by franchise locations right outside the city boundaries. Alternatively, switch to franchises that have low-labor meals and support for payment kiosks. Automate, automate.

So far the number of cities moving to a $15/hour min wage (SF, LA, Seattle) isn't large enough to cause a big boost in fast food automation technology development. But throw in some more big cities (hear the call NYC, Boston, Chicago, San Jose) and that would change.

By Randall Parker 2015 May 20 05:09 PM 
Entry Permalink | Comments(3)
2015 May 17 Sunday
Ross Douthat on Mike Huckabee, Anti-Reform Conservative

Mike Huckabee represents retiree entitlements protecting conservatism. Conserve old age entitlements spending and oppose anything that competes with it.

So what competes with old age entitlements spending?

  • Military spending. A big conservative favorite.
  • Scientific research spending. Definitely a public good that benefits everyone and on the decline as it gets squeezed out by entitlements.
  • Roads and bridges. Again, a public good that benefits everyone. Though roads could be turned into toll roads.
  • The welfare state for the lower classes. This is the biggest vote getter that threatens to make the Republican Party into has-beens. Democrats are doing all they can to boost the size of the lower class with low skilled immigrants and plenty of business interests support this.
  • Education. Not a terribly effective but popular way to spend federal dollars. The big spending school districts (can you say "Baltimore"? sure) have bad outcomes while Utah has great bang for the educational buck.
  • Everything else.

The US military is going to be one of the big losers in all this. The US military is now top of the pops. But a growing China is in the process of making the seas near China dangerous places for the US Navy. But even before the cash crunch US military effectiveness has already started looking quite tarnished because in spite of lots of spilled blood and treasure it was not able to bring peace, love, and understanding to Iraq, Afghanistan, and other parts of the Islamic neighborhood. Nation building, counter-insurgency strategy and shock and awe did not produce desired outcomes. But does it matter?

Infrastructure spending and scientific research spending are going to be losers as well. I expect more increases in taxes as well.

It comes down to the old folks and poor folks. The old folks and the poor folks are both growing in number. Poor folks are growing because they are more fertile, they coming coming in from other countries, and because industry is automating the sorts of jobs they used to work at. The old folks are a growing proportion of the population due to lower fertility rates and longer life expectancies.

Since their numbers are growing the old folks and poor folks could each individually get less from the government even as the total amount spent on their groups grows.

So what's going to happen? Means testing for old folks benefits seems like a matter of when, not if. How long until higher net worth people have to pay more for Medicare and get less in Social Security? Perhaps a large financial crisis in the 2020s will force this.

Fast economic growth used to allow the government to hand out more stuff each year without taking higher percentages away from each person. But economic growth has become too anemic for too many years and now the zero sum nature of the game as become clear and politics has become more bitter and negative. I expect this to get much worse before it gets any better.

By Randall Parker 2015 May 17 03:48 PM 
Entry Permalink | Comments(3)
Upper Class NYC Glam-SAHMs: Glamorous Stay At Home Moms

Who is out in Central Park with their kids? Glam-SAHMs: Glamorous Stay At Home Moms with advanced elite degrees whose husbands manage hedge funds and private equity. On the bright side they are having lots of kids. You might be surprised if you read the whole thing.

The big families and stay-at-home wives of these masters of the universe seem like a form of conspicuous consumption by alpha males. But they also want heirs. Imagine how much more enthused they'll become about big families once they can guarantee having all super kids. The next generation of hedge fund managers will jump on CRISPR-Cas9 offspring genetic editing to make their kids capable of functioning at high levels. No more regression to the mean with disappointing children. When genetic editing takes out most of the risk of having dud disappointing kids upper class family sizes will go up.

By Randall Parker 2015 May 17 12:03 PM 
Entry Permalink | Comments(1)
How Many Political Leaders Are Blackmailed?

Ron Unz looks at whether John McCain's period of time as a POW involved heroism or collaboration with the enemy. Then he asks an interesting question: does the existence of material that can be used for blackmail help a person rise to the top since the blackmailers know that the compromised person can easily be controlled?

The realization that many of our political leaders may be harboring such terrible personal secrets, secrets that our media outlets regularly conceal, raises an important policy implication independent of the particular secrets themselves. In recent years I have increasingly begun to suspect that some or even many of our national leaders may occasionally make their seemingly inexplicable policy decisions under the looming threat of personal blackmail, and that this may have also been true in the past.

Read the whole article before dismissing the idea.

We have plenty of other reasons why democracy is failing and the constitution no longer constrains the government. But this might be yet another one.

By Randall Parker 2015 May 17 11:04 AM 
Entry Permalink | Comments(2)
2015 May 16 Saturday
The Battle Of The Womb In The Middle East

At the time of Israel's creation 13,000 out of 65,000 Bedouins did not flee. There are now 240,000 Bedouins in Israel about 67 years later, 18.46 times more. That's almost a 4.5% growth rate per year. I wonder if the growth rate has slowed at all.

In the 20th century some groups got pushed out of areas or dominated because they lost the battle of the womb. Serbs got pushed out of Kosovo by higher Muslim fertility. Christians in Lebanon dropped as a percentage of the total population which set them up for defeat in the Lebanese civil war.

The 21st century will witness similar shifts in the power of various groups. What is going to happen in Israel and the occupied territories? Will Arab Muslims win a long demographic war against Israel? Or will Israel push Muslims out of Israel proper? Israel's Jewish growth rate is lower than its Arab growth rate. But the Haredi Jews have the highest growth rate. If the Haredis maintain their high growth rate they could push the overall Jewish growth rate above that of the Arabs.

The Christians in the Middle East will continue to lose ground, flee, and be killed. They've already lost the demographic war. The Yezidis are facing a bad situation as well.

I also wonder about Shiites versus Sunnis. Iran has a fertility rate below 2 in contrast to Iraq with a fertility rate above 4. But in Iraq are Shiites or Sunnis making more babies? Same question in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and other gulf states. I also wonder about the relative fertility rates more moderate versus more radical Sunnis. My guess is that the moderates are losing the battle of the womb.

Another interesting demographic war: Turks vs Kurds vs Arabs. The fertility rate of Turks is lower than the fertility rate of Kurds in Turkey. Some Turks fear they will become a minority in their own country some time in the 21st century. By contrast, the Kurdish fertility rate in Iraq, while high, is not as high as the Arab fertility rate in Iraq. So the Kurds might take over Turkey (or perhaps secede from it) but lose territory in Iraq.

Other Middle Eastern conflicts come to mind. In Yemen are the Houthis or Sunni Arabs winning the battle of the womb? How about the fertility rates of various Syrian factions? Will fertility rate differences determine who eventually comes out on top in Libya?

By Randall Parker 2015 May 16 08:21 PM 
Entry Permalink | Comments(4)
2015 May 15 Friday
Motives For False Rape Allegations

Beware of women who might have these motivations:

With the cooperation of the police agency of a small metropolitan community, 45 consecutive, disposed, false rape allegations covering a 9 year period were studied. These false rape allegations constitute 41% the total forcible rape cases (n = 109) reported during this period. These false allegations appear to serve three major functions for the complainants: providing an alibi, seeking revenge, and obtaining sympathy and attention. False rape allegations are not the consequence of a gender-linked aberration, as frequently claimed, but reflect impulsive and desperate efforts to cope with personal and social stress situations.

I'd like to see more systematic research to measure the extent of false allegations in general. I once attended part of a criminal trial with my high school sociology class and it became apparent that a couple of employees had ripped off a store and tried to frame the (mildly mentally retarded) defendant. We watched as cross examination by the defense attorney basically destroyed the prosecution's case. After we left the court room we wondered whether charges would be brought against those who made the false claims.

By Randall Parker 2015 May 15 07:05 PM 
Entry Permalink | Comments(2)
2015 May 14 Thursday
How To Eliminate Child Poverty

Sometimes a crazy policy goal by progressives is so framed that only the possible ways to achieve it are far outside the Overton Window. Here is a crazy one I came across: If any household at 60% of median incomes has children then the children are defined as living in poverty and the goal is to end this horror.

For example, the last UK Labour government had a goal of ending child poverty by 2020, a goal accepted by the Coalition when it took over in May 2010. Child poverty was defined as children living in homes with less than 60 percent of median UK incomes.

You might think at first glance this goal is impossible. But play with it. There are ways, though all the possible solutions are extreme.

The most obvious way to achieve this goal is to convince or, more likely, require more than half the population to not make babies. Any household not in the top 40% could just not be licensed for reproduction.

Another solution: take all babies away from the bottom half and force the higher income households to raise the kids. That solution probably holds the most appeal for the tabula rasa faithful.

There's a labor market regulation approach: do not allow family without babies to earn more than 60% of median income and require businesses to pay all parents amounts that add up to 60%. How to reduce the disruption of such a wage restriction? Require one member of a married couple without kids to stay at home. At the same time, require both members of a married

There is yet another way: legalize polygamous marriage, especially by high earning men. But the money makers would not necessarily have to be men. A man could marry a couple of well compensated women and the 3 of them could make babies. But lower class women would need to either as small groups marry well paid men or as bigger groups bring their combined incomes to at least 60% of median income. A large enough group of women married to the same high income guy could provide child care for each other as well as do all household chores. But a few of them would need to be ready to go to work if the guy ever lost his job.

The key element in all these approaches is that some substantial group remains in the bottom 60% of households not earning very much. Single men and also women who do not want kids would have to play this part.

By Randall Parker 2015 May 14 04:20 PM 
Entry Permalink | Comments(6)
2015 May 08 Friday
With 36.8% Of Vote Tories Got Over Half Of Parliament Seats

While the Conservatives in Britain just won over half the seats in the British Parliament they did this with just 36.8% of the vote. An amazing consequence of the First Past The Post voting system. Between them Conservatives and Labour won about 67% of the vote. So about a third of the UK population voted for other parties.

While the UK Independence Party only has 1 Parliament seat it went from about 3% in the 2010 vote to almost 13% in the 2015 vote. The big gain by the UKIP of about 10% is the more amazing story of this election. Can the UKIP start winning majorities in some areas and get Parliament seats in the next election?

Will the Conservatives stay in the EU? Give the UK voters a chance to vote to exit the EU? Will the Conservatives cut back on immigration?

Andrew Stuttaford on "shy Tories":

Where did the pollsters go wrong? Probably by underestimating the amount of “shy Tories” that there are. Brits should pause to think of what it says about the country’s intellectual climate that so many voters on one side of the aisle are unwilling to disclose their voting preferences.

My guess is that if the people on the British Left stop to think about how well they've done in making conservatives afraid to express their views that they'll feel very self congratulatory. How thrilling to marginalize and delegitimatize your enemy.

By Randall Parker 2015 May 08 09:06 PM 
Entry Permalink | Comments(7)
Getting Hammered By Our Elites: Least Educated Hurting In Job Market

Why are workers without much education getting hammered? Since this is an article in The Gray Lady (aka The Blind Lady) it has no mention of immigration.

Stop immigration of anyone with an IQ below 120 and the salaries of the least cognitively able would not be quite so low.

Though in the long run the people at the bottom are all going to get replaced by robots. I have no idea what someone with an IQ of 80 will do for a living 20 years from now.

By Randall Parker 2015 May 08 08:28 PM 
Entry Permalink | Comments(4)
Labor Market Wants Technically Skilled And Few Heed The Call

Salary levels on the job market pretty much shout "study STEM subjects". But few people take that path. from the mid 1980s up to a few years ago the number of people getting STEM degrees stayed about the same while the number of college grads increased 50%.

Some people drop out of STEM degrees because it is hard. Others want to do work that involves more social interaction or caring for others. Check out what women major in at college. These college major choices are revealed preferences. What stands out: A very strong preference for the caring health professions. Useful jobs and fairly well paying too. But the women getting degrees in psychology are doing themselves no favors.

The women studying education are similarly wasting their time. Consider that the Teach For America idealists, while not really doing much good, are just as good at teaching as people who studied education as undergrads. So education degrees are a waste of time and money. But on the bright side, the numbers enrolled in teacher training have been plummeting.

Also on the bright side, the value added from STEM schools is getting more attention. Also on the bright side, some Ivy League graduates are going to coding camps after graduation to get the useful skills their expensive elite educations did not give them.

By Randall Parker 2015 May 08 07:15 PM 
Entry Permalink | Comments(19)
2015 May 02 Saturday
What Inner City Lower Class Really Like

Read this piece by Heather Mac Donald. Miss Linda is the crack addict mother of 3 adolescent boys growing up in Philadephia.

On Sixth Street, drug dealing is tantamount to a bourgeois occupation. Chuck complains that his middle brother, Reggie, lacks the patience for “making slow money selling drugs hand to hand.” Instead, Reggie favors armed robberies, to the admiration of his mother, Miss Linda. “He fearless,” she says. “A stone-cold gangster.” It would be a mistake, however, to think of drug dealing as a peaceful activity. Early on, a disgruntled supplier firebombs Chuck’s car. Chuck responds by shooting at the supplier’s home. In 2007, at the end of Goffman’s chronicle, Chuck is fatally shot in the head while standing outside a Chinese restaurant, one of three shootings that night in Philadelphia. The killer, Goffman writes, was “trying to make it at the bottom rung of a shrinking drug trade.”

Another part of the article:

Ned, 43, supports himself in part by stealing credit cards and intercepting checks in the mail. When he and his girlfriend Jean, a crack addict, need money for property taxes, they lure a cousin of Reggie’s (Miss Linda’s second son) to their house with the promise of gossip about a former girlfriend. Waiting there is a man in a hoodie, who robs the cousin at gunpoint. The unintended punch line of the story: Ned and Jean also get income from working as foster-care parents, a fact that does not apparently give Goffman pause but that speaks volumes, sadly, about the quality of parenting in the area.

Rob your cousin for property tax money. Just another day in Philly.

My sympathy is with the cops who have to keep us safe from these people.

By Randall Parker 2015 May 02 06:01 PM 
Entry Permalink | Comments(6)