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The Loss of American Competitiveness

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from The Great Degeneration by Niall Ferguson

Experts on economic competitiveness, like Michael Porter of Harvard Business School, define the term to include the ability of government to pass effective laws; the protection of physical and intellectual property rights and lack of corruption; the efficiency of the legal framework, including modest costs and swift adjudication; the ease of setting up a new business; and effective and predictable regulations.  It is startling to find out how poorly the United States now fares when judged by these criteria.  In a 2011 survey, Porter and his colleagues asked HBS alumni about 607 instances of decisions on whether or not to offshore operations.  The United States retained the business in just 96 cases(16%) and lost it in all of the rest. Asked why they favored foreign locations, the respondents listed the areas where they saw the U.S. falling further behind the rest of the world.  The top ten reasons included:

  1.  The effectiveness of the political system
  2. The complexity of the tax code
  3.  Regulation
  4. The efficiency of the legal frameworks
  5. Flexibility in hiring and firing
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The Measured and Unmeasured

From Joel Kotkin at newgeography.com AMERICA’S NEW OLIGARCHS—FWD.US AND SILICON VALLEY’S SHADY 1 PERCENTERS

this is an excerpt from a reader’s comment on the article above:

The Valley’s failure to fulfill its promise seems to be due precisely to this: it lacks, shuns even, any appreciation for that which cannot be measured or valued in quantitative terms. All the qualitative longings of the human soul to reach above and beyond to something spiritual; all that the poets and the mystics have mused about; anything other than status, power, money, image, dominance, and elegant technique; all that belongs to what psychologists like to call the affective domain; all the finer things of human life that distinguish us from both ape and computer; all those ideals like romance, compassion, love, kindness, graciousness, beauty, human rights, and the simple affectations of the smell of a rose or nostalgia for the past; all this and much more the Valley has left unattended in its single-minded obsession with and ruthless pursuit of the refinement of technique. For in the Valley, higher technology automatically means more progress. Every human challenge is to be viewed as some kind of technical brainteaser that can ultimately find a technological solution—and it better make somebody filthy rich, and make it snappy, too!

HKO

“everything that can be measured is not worth measuring and everything that is worth measuring can not be measured.”

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Defensive Gun Use

smokingguns

From Brian Doherty at Reason,  You Know Less Than You Think About Guns

This is an excellent analysis of the sociology of the gun problem in America, and should be read in its entirety. It is a bit long, but it is worthy with no wasted words.

In the October 2015 special issue on “gun violence prevention,” Preventive Medicine featured the latest and most thorough attempt to treat the NCVS as the gold standard for measuring defensive gun usage. The study, by Harvard’s Hemenway and Sara J. Solnick of the University of Vermont, broke down the characteristics of the small number of DGUs recorded by the NCVS from 2007 to 2011. The authors found, among other things, that “Of the 127 incidents in which victims used a gun in self-defense, they were injured after they used a gun in 4.1% of the incidents. Running away and calling the police were associated with a reduced likelihood of injury after taking action; self-defense gun use was not.” That sounds not so great, but Hemenway went on to explain that “attacking or threatening the perpetrator with a gun had no significant effect on the likelihood of the victim being injured after taking self-protective action,” since slightly more people who tried non-firearm means of defending themselves were injured. Thus, for those who place value on self-defense and resistance over running, the use of a weapon doesn’t seem too bad comparatively; Hemenway found that 55.9 percent of victims who took any kind of protective action lost property, but only 38.5 percent of people who used a gun in self-defense did.

Kleck thinks the National Crime Victimization Survey disagrees so much with his own survey because NCVS researchers aren’t looking for DGUs, or even asking about them in so many words. The survey merely asks those who said “yes” to having been a crime victim whether they “did or tried to do” something about it. (You might not consider yourself a “victim” of a crime you have successfully prevented.) Kleck surmises that people might be reluctant to admit to possibly criminal action on their own part (especially since the vast majority of crime victimizations occurred outside the home, where the legality of gun possession might be questionable) to a government surveyor after they’ve given their name and address. And as he argued in a Politico article in February 2015, experienced surveyors in criminology are sure that “survey respondents underreport (1) crime victimization experiences, (2) gun ownership and (3) their own illegal behavior.”

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Pseudo Science

from Making It All Up by Andrew Ferguson at The Weekly Standard

Behind the people being experimented upon are the people doing the experimenting, the behavioral scientists themselves. In important ways they are remarkably monochromatic. We don’t need to belabor the point. In a survey of the membership of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, 85 percent of respondents called themselves liberal, 6 percent conservative, 9 percent moderate. Two percent of graduate students and postdocs called themselves conservative. “The field is shifting leftward,” wrote one team of social psychologists (identifying themselves as “one liberal, one centrist, two libertarians, two who reject characterization,” and no conservatives). “And there are hardly any conservative students in the pipeline.” A more recent survey of over 300 members of another group of experimental psychologists found 4 who voted for Mitt Romney.

The self-correction essential to science is less likely to happen among people whose political and cultural views are so uniform. This is especially true when so many of them specialize in studying political and cultural behavior. Their biases are likely to be invisible to themselves and their colleagues. Consider this abstract from a famous study on conservatism [with technical decoration excised]:

A meta-analysis confirms that several psychological variables predict political conservatism: death anxiety; system instability; dogmatism​—​intolerance of ambiguity; openness to experience; uncertainty tolerance; needs for order, structure, and closure; integrative complexity; fear of threat and loss; and self-esteem. The core ideology of conservatism stresses resistance to change and justification of inequality and is motivated by needs that vary situationally and dispositionally to manage uncertainty and threat.

Only a scientist planted deep in ideology could read such a summary and miss the self-parodic assumptions buried there. Yet few people in behavioral sciences bat an eye. “Political Conservatism as Motivated Social Cognition,” which this paragraph is taken from, has been cited by nearly 2,000 other studies, accepted as a sober, scientific portrait of the “conservative” temperament.

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A Program for Every Problem

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from George Will in The Washington Post, The danger of a government with unlimited power

Lack of “a limiting principle” is the essence of progressivism, according to William Voegeli, contributing editor of the Claremont Review of Books, in his new book “Never Enough: America’s Limitless Welfare State.” The Founders, he writes, believed that free government’s purpose, and the threats to it, are found in nature. The threats are desires for untrammeled power, desires which, Madison said, are “sown in the nature of man.” Government’s limited purpose is to protect the exercise of natural rights that pre-exist government, rights that human reason can ascertain in unchanging principles of conduct and that are essential to the pursuit of happiness.

Wilsonian progressives believe that History is a proper noun, an autonomous thing. It, rather than nature, defines government’s ever-evolving and unlimited purposes. Government exists to dispense an ever-expanding menu of rights — entitlements that serve an open-ended understanding of material and even spiritual well-being.

The name “progressivism” implies criticism of the Founding, which we leave behind as we make progress. And the name is tautological: History is progressive because progress is defined as whatever History produces. History guarantees what the Supreme Court has called “evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.”

The cheerful assumption is that “evolving” must mean “improving.” Progressivism’s promise is a program for every problem, and progressivism’s premise is that every unfulfilled desire is a problem.