Showing posts with label culture wars. Show all posts
Showing posts with label culture wars. Show all posts

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Not taking responsibility: Equity trumps efficiency in allocation decisions

Not taking responsibility: Equity trumps efficiency in allocation decisions. By  Gordon-Hecker, Tom; Rosensaft-Eshel, Daniela; Pittarello, Andrea; Shalvi, Shaul; Bereby-Meyer, Yoella
Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, Vol 146(6), Jun 2017, 771-775.

Abstract: When allocating resources, equity and efficiency may conflict. When resources are scarce and cannot be distributed equally, one may choose to destroy resources and reduce societal welfare to maintain equity among its members. We examined whether people are averse to inequitable outcomes per se or to being responsible for deciding how inequity should be implemented. Three scenario-based experiments and one incentivized experiment revealed that participants are inequity responsibility averse: when asked to decide which of the 2 equally deserving individuals should receive a reward, they rather discarded the reward than choosing who will get it. This tendency diminished significantly when participants had the possibility to use a random device to allocate the reward. The finding suggests that it is more difficult to be responsible for the way inequity is implemented than to create inequity per se.

Evaluation of a proposal for reliable low-cost grid power with 100% wind, water, and solar

Evaluation of a proposal for reliable low-cost grid power with 100% wind, water, and solar. By Christopher T. M Clack, Staffan A. Qvist, Jay Apt,, Morgan Bazilian, Adam R. Brandt, Ken Caldeira, Steven J. Davis, Victor Diakov, Mark A. Handschy, Paul D. H. Hines, Paulina Jaramillo, Daniel M. Kammen, Jane C. S. Long, M. Granger Morgan, Adam Reed, Varun Sivaram, James Sweeney, George R. Tynan, David G. Victor, John P. Weyant, and Jay F. Whitacre. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Significance: Previous analyses have found that the most feasible route to a low-carbon energy future is one that adopts a diverse portfolio of technologies. In contrast, Jacobson et al. (2015) consider whether the future primary energy sources for the United States could be narrowed to almost exclusively wind, solar, and hydroelectric power and suggest that this can be done at “low-cost” in a way that supplies all power with a probability of loss of load “that exceeds electric-utility-industry standards for reliability”. We find that their analysis involves errors, inappropriate methods, and implausible assumptions. Their study does not provide credible evidence for rejecting the conclusions of previous analyses that point to the benefits of considering a broad portfolio of energy system options. A policy prescription that overpromises on the benefits of relying on a narrower portfolio of technologies options could be counterproductive, seriously impeding the move to a cost effective decarbonized energy system.

Abstract: A number of analyses, meta-analyses, and assessments, including those performed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and the International Energy Agency, have concluded that deployment of a diverse portfolio of clean energy technologies makes a transition to a low-carbon-emission energy system both more feasible and less costly than other pathways. In contrast, Jacobson et al. [Jacobson MZ, Delucchi MA, Cameron MA, Frew BA (2015) Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 112(49):15060–15065] argue that it is feasible to provide “low-cost solutions to the grid reliability problem with 100% penetration of WWS [wind, water and solar power] across all energy sectors in the continental United States between 2050 and 2055”, with only electricity and hydrogen as energy carriers. In this paper, we evaluate that study and find significant shortcomings in the analysis. In particular, we point out that this work used invalid modeling tools, contained modeling errors, and made implausible and inadequately supported assumptions. Policy makers should treat with caution any visions of a rapid, reliable, and low-cost transition to entire energy systems that relies almost exclusively on wind, solar, and hydroelectric power.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Physical Safety Promotes Socially (but Not Economically) Progressive Attitudes among Conservatives

Napier, J. L., Huang, J., Vonasch, A. J., and Bargh, J. A. (2017) Superheroes for Change: Physical Safety Promotes Socially (but Not Economically) Progressive Attitudes among Conservatives. Eur. J. Soc. Psychol., doi: 10.1002/ejsp.2315

Abstract: Across two studies, we find evidence for our prediction that experimentally increasing feelings of physical safety increases conservatives' socially progressive attitudes. Specifically, Republican and conservative participants who imagined being endowed with a superpower that made them invulnerable to physical harm (vs. the ability to fly) were more socially (but not economically) liberal (Study 1) and less resistant to social change (Study 2). Results suggest that socially (but not economically) conservative attitudes are driven, at least in part, by needs for safety and security.

Why Elites Love Authentic Lowbrow Culture: Overcoming High-Status Denigration with Outsider Art

Why Elites Love Authentic Lowbrow Culture: Overcoming High-Status Denigration with Outsider Art. By Oliver Hahl, Ezra W. Zuckerman, Minjae Kim
American Sociological Review

Abstract: We develop and test the idea that public appreciation for authentic lowbrow culture affords an effective way for certain elites to address feelings of authenticity-insecurity arising from “high status denigration” (Hahl and Zuckerman 2014). This argument, which builds on recent sociological research on the “search for authenticity” (e.g., Grazian 2005) and on Bourdieu’s (1993) notion of artistic “disinterestedness,” is validated through experiments with U.S. subjects in the context of “outsider” art (Fine 2004). The first study demonstrates that preference for lowbrow culture perceived to be authentic is higher when individuals feel insecure in their authenticity because they attained status in a context where extrinsic incentives are salient. The second study demonstrates that audiences perceive the members of erstwhile denigrated high-status categories to be more authentic if they consume lowbrow culture, but only if the cultural producer is perceived as authentic. We conclude by noting how this “authenticity-by-appreciation” effect might be complementary to distinction-seeking as a motivation for elite cultural omnivorousness, and we draw broader implications for when and why particular forms of culture are in demand.

Mi resumen de lo que los autores defienden: el aprecio por el arte lowbrow* proporciona a ciertas élites un modo eficaz de abordar la inseguridad sobre su autenticidad, dudas que emanan del la denigración del status alto (“high status denigration,” Hahl and Zuckerman 2014). La búsqueda de la autenticidad y el carácter desinteresado, no enfocado en lo lucrativo, de ciertas muestras artísticas, se someten a experimentos con sujetos estadounidenses. El primer estudio muestra que la preferencia por cultura lowbrow percibida como auténtica es alta cuando los sujetos se sienten inseguros sobre su autenticidad. El segundo estudio muestra que los otros perciben a miembros de las categorias denigradas (alto standing) como más auténticos si consumen cultura lowbrow, pero solo si el productor cultural se percibe como auténtico. Este efecto de autenticidad es complementario a la búsqueda de carácter único en la motivación del carácter omnívoro cultural de la élite.

* lowbrow art: An underground visual art movement that arose in the Los Angeles area in the late 1970s. Lowbrow is a widespread populist art movement with origins in the underground comix world, punk music, hot-rod street culture, and other California subcultures. It is also often known by the name pop surrealism. Most lowbrow artworks are paintings, but there are also toys, and sculptures. Many of the creators of lowbrow art are influenced by Acid house flyers, Advertising, Animated cartoons, Circus and Sideshow culture, Commercial art, Comic books, Erotica, Graffiti and Street art, Kitsch, Kustom Kulture, Mail art, Pop culture, Psychedelic art, Punk rock culture, Retro Illustration, Religious art, Pulp magazine art, Surf culture, Tattoo art, Tiki culture, Toys for adults, notably vinyl figurines, anti-political views, among many other things.

Are the ethnically tolerant free of discrimination, prejudice and political intolerance? They aren't.

Bizumic, B., Kenny, A., Iyer, R., Tanuwira, J., and Huxley, E. (2017) Are the ethnically tolerant free of discrimination, prejudice and political intolerance? Eur. J. Soc. Psychol., doi: 10.1002/ejsp.2263

Abstract: We hypothesized that the ethnically tolerant (i.e., people who are anti-ethnocentric and score very low on a measure of ethnocentrism) would perceive people with extremely incompatible values and beliefs as out-groups and would engage in discrimination, prejudice and political intolerance against them. Experiments among Australian citizens in Studies 1 (N = 224) and 2 (N = 283) showed that the ethnically tolerant perceived supporters of a message in favour of mandatory detention of asylum seekers as out-groups and consequently exhibited discrimination, prejudice and political intolerance against them. Study 3 with 265 U.S. citizens showed that, controlling for liberalism, ethnic tolerance led to prejudice against out-groups. This was replicated with 522 UK citizens in Study 4, which also showed that social identity, and not moral conviction, mediated the link between ethnic tolerance and prejudice. The findings suggest that the ethnically tolerant can be discriminatory, prejudiced and politically intolerant against fellow humans.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Need for uniqueness motivates conspiracy beliefs

Imhoff, R., and Lamberty, P. K. (2017) Too special to be duped: Need for uniqueness motivates conspiracy beliefs. Eur. J. Soc. Psychol., doi: 10.1002/ejsp.2265

Abstract: Adding to the growing literature on the antecedents of conspiracy beliefs, this paper argues that a small part in motivating the endorsement of such seemingly irrational beliefs is the desire to stick out from the crowd, the need for uniqueness. Across three studies, we establish a modest but robust association between the self-attributed need for uniqueness and a general conspirational mindset (conspiracy mentality) as well as the endorsement of specific conspiracy beliefs. Following up on previous findings that people high in need for uniqueness resist majority and yield to minority influence, Study 3 experimentally shows that a fictitious conspiracy theory received more support by people high in conspiracy mentality when this theory was said to be supported by only a minority (vs. majority) of survey respondents. Together, these findings support the notion that conspiracy beliefs can be adopted as a means to attain a sense of uniqueness.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Increase in deployment & combat injuries for white and Hispanic soldiers relative to black ones & for soldiers from high-income neighborhoods relative to those from low-income ones

Who Will Fight? The All-Volunteer Army after 9/11. By Susan Payne Carter, Alexander Smith & Carl Wojtaszek
American Economic Review, May 2017, Pages 415-419

Abstract: Who fought the War on Terror? We find that as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan progressed, there was an increase in the fraction of active-duty Army enlistees who were white or from high-income neighborhoods and that these two groups selected combat occupations more often. Among men, we find an increase in deployment and combat injuries for white and Hispanic soldiers relative to black soldiers and for soldiers from high-income neighborhoods relative to those from low-income neighborhoods. This finding suggests that an all-volunteer force does not compel a disproportionate number of non-white and low socio-economic men to fight America's wars.

IV.  Discussion
Today's all-volunteer force represents a diverse group of individuals serving for both patriotic and economic reasons. For those with fewer economic opportunities, a steady job may be the deciding factor in their enlistment decision; while for those with more outside options, wartime service may shape their deci- sion. Concerns over equity could arise under the  all-volunteer system if these enlistment motivations are differentially distributed across demographic groups. While we cannot uncover the distribution of these motivations, we can observe which groups bear the burden of war. Were the first sustained conflicts of the AVF.Iraq and Afghanistan..poor man.s fights.? To the contrary, during this time period it does not appear that there was an undue burden placed on blacks or individuals from low-income neighborhoods. The percentages of black and low-income enlistees decreased as fighting intensified, with these trends stopping when outside labor market opportunities diminished during the Great Recession and combat risk decreased. These trends were the same for men and women, although black women continued to be over-represented in the Army relative to the general population. Furthermore, black and low-income enlisted men were less likely than their white and high-income peers to be deployed or injured in combat. These differences are driven primarily by the military occupation an individual enters: black and low-income men were less likely to choose combat-intensive occupations than their white and high-income peers with the same eligibility.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Yale's Little Robespierres - Students berate faculty who try to defend free speech

Yale's Little Robespierres. WSJ Editorial
Students berate faculty who try to defend free speech.WSJ, Nov. 9, 2015 7:31 p.m. ET

Someone at Yale University should have dressed up as Robespierre for Halloween, as its students seem to have lost their minds over what constitutes a culturally appropriate costume. Identity and grievance politics keeps hitting new lows on campus, and now even liberal professors are being consumed by the revolution.

On Oct. 28 Yale Dean Burgwell Howard and Yale’s Intercultural Affairs Committee blasted out an email advising students against “culturally unaware” Halloween costumes, with self-help questions such as: “If this costume is meant to be historical, does it further misinformation or historical and cultural inaccuracies?” Watch out for insensitivity toward “religious beliefs, Native American/Indigenous people, Socio-economic strata, Asians, Hispanic/Latino, Women, Muslims, etc.” In short, everyone.

Who knew Yale still employed anyone willing to doubt the costume wardens? But in response to the dean’s email, lecturer in early childhood education Erika Christakis mused to the student residential community she oversees with her husband, Nicholas, a Yale sociologist and physician: “I don’t wish to trivialize genuine concerns,” but she wondered if colleges had morphed into “places of censure and prohibition.”

And: “Nicholas says, if you don’t like a costume someone is wearing, look away, or tell them you are offended. Talk to each other. Free speech and the ability to tolerate offence are the hallmarks of a free and open society.”

Some 750 Yale students, faculty, alumni and others signed a letter saying Ms. Christakis’s “jarring” email served to “further degrade marginalized people,” as though someone with a Yale degree could be marginalized in America. Students culturally appropriated a Puritan shaming trial and encircled Mr. Christakis on a lawn, cursing and heckling him to quit. “I stand behind free speech,” he told the mob.

Hundreds of protesters also turned on Jonathan Holloway, Yale’s black dean, demanding to know why the school hadn’t addressed allegations that a black woman had been kept out of a fraternity party. Fragile scholars also melted down over a visiting speaker who made a joke about Yale’s fracas while talking at a conference sponsored by the school’s William F. Buckley, Jr. program focused on . . . the future of free speech.

The episode reminds us of when Yale alumnus Lee Bass in 1995 asked the university to return his $20 million donation. Mr. Bass had hoped to seed a curriculum in Western civilization, but Yale’s faculty ripped the idea as white imperialism, and he requested a refund. Two decades later the alternative to Western civilization is on display, and it seems to be censorship.

According to a student reporting for the Washington Post, Yale president Peter Salovey told minority students in response to the episode that “we failed you.” That’s true, though not how he means it. The failure is that elite colleges are turning out ostensible leaders who seem to have no idea why America’s Founders risked extreme discomfort—that is, death—for the right to speak freely.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Daniel Schuchman's review of Harry G. Frankfurt's On Inequality

Beggar Thy Neighbor. By Daniel Schuchman
Daniel Schuchman's review of Harry G. Frankfurt's On Inequality (Princeton, 102 pages, $14.95)
Wall Street Journal, Oct 09, 2015

In a 2005 best seller, Harry Frankfurt, a Princeton philosophy professor, explored the often complex nature of popular false ideas. “On Bulls—” examined outright lies, ambiguous forms of obfuscation and the not-always-transparent intentions of those who promote them. Now, in “On Inequality,” Mr. Frankfurt eviscerates one of the shibboleths of our time: that economic inequality—in his definition, “the possession by some of more money than others”—is the most urgent issue confronting society. This idea, he believes, suffers from logical and moral errors of the highest order.

The fixation on equality, as a moral ideal in and of itself, is critically flawed, according to the professor. It holds that justice is determined by one person’s position relative to another, not his absolute well-being. Therefore the logic of egalitarianism can lead to perverse outcomes, he argues. Most egregiously, income inequality could be eliminated very effectively “by making everyone equally poor.” And while the lowest economic stratum of society is always associated with abject poverty, this need not be the case. Mr. Frankfurt imagines instances where those “who are doing considerably worse than others may nonetheless be doing rather well.” This possibility—as with contemporary America’s wide inequalities among relatively prosperous people—undermines the coherence of a philosophy mandating equality.

Mr. Frankfurt acknowledges that “among morally conscientious individuals, appeals in behalf of equality often have very considerable emotional or rhetorical power.” The motivations for pursuing equality may be well-meaning but they are profoundly misguided and contribute to “the moral disorientation and shallowness of our time.”

The idea that equality in itself is a paramount goal, Mr. Frankfurt argues, alienates people from their own characters and life aspirations. The amount of wealth possessed by others does not bear on “what is needed for the kind of life a person would most sensibly and appropriately seek for himself.” The incessant egalitarian comparison of one against another subordinates each individual’s goals to “those that are imposed on them by the conditions in which others happen to live.” Thus, individuals are led to apply an arbitrary relative standard that does not “respect” their authentic selves.

If his literalist critique of egalitarianism is often compelling, Mr. Frankfurt’s own philosophy has more in common with such thinking than is first apparent. For Mr. Frankfurt, the imperative of justice is to alleviate poverty and improve lives, not to make people equal. He does not, however, think that it is morally adequate merely to provide people with a safety net. Instead, he argues for an ideal of “sufficiency.”

By sufficiency Mr. Frankfurt means enough economic resources for every individual to be reasonably satisfied with his circumstances, assuming that the individual’s satisfaction need not be disturbed by others having more. While more money might be welcome, it would not “alter his attitude toward his life, or the degree of his contentment with it.” The achievement of economic and personal contentment by everyone is Mr. Frankfurt’s priority. In fact, his principle of sufficiency is so ambitious it demands that lack of money should never be the cause of anything “distressing or unsatisfying” in anyone’s life.

What’s the harm of such a desirable, if unrealistic goal? The author declares that inequality is “morally disturbing” only when his standard of sufficiency is not achieved. His just society would, in effect, mandate a universal entitlement to a lifestyle that has been attained only by a minuscule fraction of humans in all history. Mr. Frankfurt recognizes such reasoning may bring us full circle: “The most feasible approach” to universal sufficiency may well be policies that, in practice, differ little from those advocated in the “pursuit of equality.”

In passing, the author notes another argument against egalitarianism, the “dangerous conflict between equality and liberty.” He is referring to the notion that leaving people free to choose their work and what goods and services they consume will always lead to an unequal distribution of income. To impose any preconceived economic distribution will, as the philosopher Robert Nozick argued, involves “continuous interference in people’s lives.” Like egalitarianism, Mr. Frankfurt’s ideal of “sufficiency” would hold property rights and economic liberty hostage to his utopian vision.

Such schemes, Nozick argued, see economic assets as having arrived on earth fully formed, like “manna from heaven,” with no consideration of their human origin. Mr. Frankfurt also presumes that one person’s wealth must be the reason others don’t have a “sufficient” amount to be blissfully carefree; he condemns the “excessively affluent” who have “extracted” too much from the nation. This leaves a would-be philosopher-king the task of divvying up loot as he chooses.

On the surface, “On Inequality” is a provocative challenge to a prevailing orthodoxy. But as the author’s earlier book showed, appearances can deceive. When Thomas Piketty, in “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” says that most wealth is rooted in theft or is arbitrary, or when Mr. Frankfurt’s former Princeton colleague Paul Krugman says the “rich” are “undeserving,” they are not (just) making the case for equality. By arguing that wealth accumulation is inherently unjust, they lay a moral groundwork for confiscation of property. Similarly, Mr. Frankfurt accuses the affluent of “gluttony”—a sentiment about which there appears to be unanimity in that temple of tenured sufficiency, the Princeton faculty club. The author claims to be motivated by respect for personal autonomy and fulfillment. By ignoring economic liberty, he reveals he is not.

Mr. Shuchman is a fund manager in New York.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

International Courts and the New Paternalism - African leaders are the targets because ambitious jurists consider them to be 'low-hanging fruit'

International Courts and the New Paternalism. By Jendayi Frazer
African leaders are the targets because ambitious jurists consider them to be ‘low-hanging fruit.’
WSJ, July 24, 2015 6:47 p.m. ET
Nairobi, Kenya

President Obama arrived in Kenya on Friday and will travel from here to Ethiopia, two crucial U.S. allies in East Africa. The region is not only emerging as an economic powerhouse, it is also an important front in the battle with al Qaeda, al-Shabaab, Islamic State and other Islamist radicals.

Yet grievances related to how the International Criminal Court’s universal jurisdiction is applied in Africa are interfering with U.S. and European relations on the continent. In Africa there are accusations of neocolonialism and even racism in ICC proceedings, and a growing consensus that Africans are being unjustly indicted by the court.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. After the failure to prevent mass atrocities in Europe and Africa in the 1990s, a strong consensus emerged that combating impunity had to be an international priority. Ad hoc United Nations tribunals were convened to judge the masterminds of genocide and crimes against humanity in Yugoslavia, Rwanda and Sierra Leone. These courts were painfully slow and expensive. But their mandates were clear and limited, and they helped countries to turn the page and focus on rebuilding.

Soon universal jurisdiction was seen not only as a means to justice, but also a tool for preventing atrocities in the first place. Several countries in Western Europe including Spain, the United Kingdom, Belgium and France empowered their national courts with universal jurisdiction. In 2002 the International Criminal Court came into force.

Africa and Europe were early adherents and today constitute the bulk of ICC membership. But India, China, Russia and most of the Middle East—representing well over half the world’s population—stayed out. So did the United States. Leaders in both parties worried that an unaccountable supranational court would become a venue for politicized show trials. The track record of the ICC and European courts acting under universal jurisdiction has amply borne out these concerns.

Only when U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld threatened to move NATO headquarters out of Brussels in 2003 did Belgium rein in efforts to indict former President George H.W. Bush, and Gens. Colin Powell and Tommy Franks, for alleged “war crimes” during the 1990-91 Gulf War. Spanish courts have indicted American military personnel in Iraq and investigated the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay.

But with powerful states able to shield themselves and their clients, Africa has borne the brunt of indictments. Far from pursuing justice for victims, these courts have become a venue for public-relations exercises by activist groups. Within African countries, they have been manipulated by one political faction to sideline another, often featuring in electoral politics.
The ICC’s recent indictments of top Kenyan officials are a prime example. In October 2014, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta became the first sitting head of state to appear before the ICC, though he took the extraordinary step of temporarily transferring power to his deputy to avoid the precedent. ICC prosecutors indicted Mr. Kenyatta in connection with Kenya’s post-election ethnic violence of 2007-08, in which some 1,200 people were killed.

Last December the ICC withdrew all charges against Mr. Kenyatta, saying the evidence had “not improved to such an extent that Mr Kenyatta’s alleged criminal responsibility can be proven beyond reasonable doubt.” As U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs from 2005-09, and the point person during Kenya’s 2007-08 post-election violence, I knew the ICC indictments were purely political. The court’s decision to continue its case against Kenya’s deputy president, William Ruto, reflects a degree of indifference and even hostility to Kenya’s efforts to heal its political divisions.

The ICC’s indictments in Kenya began with former chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo’s determination to prove the court’s relevance in Africa by going after what he reportedly called “low-hanging fruit.” In other words, African political and military leaders unable to resist ICC jurisdiction.

More recently, the arrest of Rwandan chief of intelligence Lt. Gen. Emmanuel Karenzi Karake in London last month drew a unanimous reproach from the African Union’s Peace and Security Council. The warrant dates to a 2008 Spanish indictment for alleged reprisal killings following the 1994 Rwandan genocide. At the time of the indictment, Mr. Karenzi Karake was deputy commander of the joint U.N.-African Union peacekeeping operation in Darfur. The Rwandan troops under his command were the backbone of the Unamid force, and his performance in Darfur was by all accounts exemplary.

Moreover, a U.S. government interagency review conducted in 2007-08, when I led the State Department’s Bureau of African Affairs, found that the Spanish allegations against Mr. Karenzi Karake were false and unsubstantiated. The U.S. fully backed his reappointment in 2008 as deputy commander of Unamid forces. It would be a travesty of justice if the U.K. were to extradite Mr. Karake to Spain to stand trial.

Sadly, the early hope of “universal jurisdiction” ending impunity for perpetrators of genocide and crimes against humanity has given way to cynicism, both in Africa and the West. In Africa it is believed that, in the rush to demonstrate their power, these courts and their defenders have been too willing to brush aside considerations of due process that they defend at home.

In the West, the cynicism is perhaps even more damaging because it calls into question the moral capabilities of Africans and their leaders, and revives the language of paternalism and barbarism of earlier generations.

Ms. Frazer, a former U.S. ambassador to South Africa (2004-05) and assistant secretary of state for African affairs (2005-09), is an adjunct senior fellow for Africa studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Friday, April 3, 2015

The Federal President would not stay in power if he did not talk human rights. So look at it as a political imperative.

Joe Biden on Human Rights
The Vice President tells China’s leaders to ignore the U.S.
WSJ, Apr 01, 2015

White House officials can be oddly candid in talking to their liberal friends at the New Yorker magazine. That’s where an unnamed official in 2011 boasted of “leading from behind,” and where last year President Obama dismissed Islamic State as a terrorist “jayvee team.” Now the U.S. Vice President has revealed the Administration line on human rights in China.

In the April 6 issue, Joe Biden recounts meeting Xi Jinping months before his 2012 ascent to be China’s supreme leader. Mr. Xi asked him why the U.S. put “so much emphasis on human rights.” The right answer is simple: No government has the right to deny its citizens basic freedoms, and those that do tend also to threaten peace overseas, so U.S. support for human rights is a matter of values and interests.

Instead, Mr. Biden downplayed U.S. human-rights rhetoric as little more than political posturing. “No president of the United States could represent the United States were he not committed to human rights,” he told Mr. Xi. “President Barack Obama would not be able to stay in power if he did not speak of it. So look at it as a political imperative.” Then Mr. Biden assured China’s leader: “It doesn’t make us better or worse. It’s who we are. You make your decisions. We’ll make ours.” [not the WSJ's emphasis.]

Mr. Xi took the advice. Since taking office he has detained more than 1,000 political prisoners, from anticorruption activist Xu Zhiyong to lawyer Pu Zhiqiang and journalist Gao Yu. He has cracked down on Uighurs in Xinjiang, banning more Muslim practices and jailing scholar-activist Ilham Tohti for life. Anti-Christian repression and Internet controls are tightening. Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiaobo remains in prison, his wife Liu Xia under illegal house arrest for the fifth year. Lawyer Gao Zhisheng left prison in August but is blocked from receiving medical care overseas. Hong Kong, China’s most liberal city, is losing its press freedom and political autonomy.

Amid all of this Mr. Xi and his government have faced little challenge from Washington. That is consistent with Hillary Clinton’s 2009 statement that human rights can’t be allowed to “interfere” with diplomacy on issues such as the economy and the environment. Mr. Obama tried walking that back months later, telling the United Nations that democracy and human rights aren’t “afterthoughts.” But his Administration’s record—and now Mr. Biden’s testimony—prove otherwise.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Daniel Schuman's Thomas Piketty Revives Marx for the 21st Century

Thomas Piketty reviu Marx per al segle XXI. By Daniel Shuchman
Wall Street Journal, Apr 21, 2014

Translated by Un Liberal Recalcitrant from Thomas Piketty Revives Marx for the 21st Century, below.

Thomas Piketty li agrada el capitalisme, ja que assigna eficientment els recursos. Però ell no li agrada com es distribueix la renda. No, pensa que pràcticament és una il·legitimitat moral qualsevol acumulació de riquesa, i és una qüestió de justícia que aquesta desigualtat pot radicar en la nostra economia. La manera de fer això és eliminar les rendes altes i reduir la riquesa existent a través d'impostos.

"El capital al segle XXI" és una densa exploració de Thomas Piketty en la història dels salaris i de la riquesa en els últims tres segles. Presenta un desgavell de dades sobre la distribució dels ingressos en molts països, provant de demostrar que la desigualtat ha augmentat dràsticament en les últimes dècades i que aviat tornarà a ser pitjor. Independentment de si un està convençut per les dades del Sr Piketty  -i hi ha raons per a l'escepticisme, donat el cas de les pròpies advertències de l'autor i pel fet que moltes estadístiques es basen en mostres molt limitades dels registres de l'impost sobre béns de dubtosa extrapolació- en última instància aquest és un fet de poca importància. Conseqüentment aquest llibre no és tant un treball d'anàlisi econòmica com el d’una norma ideològica estranya.

Professor de l'Escola d'Economia de París, el Sr Piketty creu que només la productivitat dels treballadors de baixos ingressos pot ser mesurada de forma objectiva. Ell postula que quan un treball és replicable, com el d’un "treballador de la línia de muntatge o el d’un cambrer de menjar ràpid",  es pot mesurar de forma relativament fàcil el valor aportat per cada treballador. Per tant, aquests treballadors tenen dret al que guanyen. Ell troba que la productivitat de les persones amb alts ingressos ´rd més difícil de mesurar i creu que els seus salaris es troben en el final de la "gran mesura arbitrària".  Són el reflex d'una "construcció ideològica" més del mèrit.

Segons Piketty, els sous altíssims per "supermanagers" corporatius ha estat la major font d'augment de la desigualtat, i aquests executius només poden haver arribat a la seva recompensa gràcies a la sort o falles en el govern corporatiu. Es requereix només una mirada ocasional a aquest diari per confirmar això. No obstant, l'autor creu que cap CEO podria mai justificar el seu salari en funció del rendiment. Ell no diu que qualsevol professional –atletes, metges, professors d'economia, que venen llibres electrònics per 21,99$ de marge amb cost zero per còpia- tingui dret a majors ingressos perquè no vol "gaudir de la construcció d'una jerarquia moral de la riquesa".

Ell admet que els empresaris són "absolutament indispensables" per al desenvolupament econòmic, però el seu èxit, també, està generalment contaminat. Mentre que alguns tenen èxit gràcies al "treball per part del veritable emprenedor," altres tenen senzillament sort o aconsegueixen l’èxit a través del "robatori descarat". Fins i tot seria el cas de les fortunes fetes del treball empresarial que evolucionen ràpidament cap a una "concentració excessiva i duradora del capital". Això és una injustícia d'auto-reforç, perquè "la propietat a vegades comença amb el robatori, i el retorn arbitrari sobre el capital pot perpetuar fàcilment el delicte inicial. "De fet tot el llibre incorpora com a una hostilitat gairebé medieval la idea de que el capital financer tingui un retorn o benefici.

El Sr Piketty creu que com més rica es torna una societat, més gent va a la recerca de la millor posició social relativa, condicionant més desigualtat. Rememora les atemporals autoritats econòmiques com Jane Austen i Honoré de Balzac en la cartografia del nostre futur. Al llarg del llibre es divaga amb les maquinacions inadequades, perseguint de personatges de novel·les com "Sentit i sensibilitat", i obsessivament, amb el calculador "Papà Goriot": Són els fruits del treball dur superiors a les intencions per casar-se i aconseguir una fortuna? Si no és així, "per què treballar, i per què comportar-se moralment bé?"

Mentre que els executius corporatius dels Estats Units són la seva “bèstia especial”, el Sr Piketty també està profundament preocupat per les desenes de milions de persones treballadores -un grup que ell anomena despectivament "petits rendistes"- que els seus ingressos els col·loca molt lluny de l’u per cent, però que encara tenen estalvis, comptes de jubilació i altres actius. Considera que aquest gran grup demogràfic es farà més gran i que el seu creixement de riquesa es transmetrà mitjançant les herències, essent això "una forma bastant preocupant de desigualtat". Es lamenta del difícil que és "corregir" tot això perquè es tracta d'un ampli segment de la població, no una petita elit, més fàcilment “satanitzable” .

Llavors, què cal fer ? El Sr Piketty insta a constituir una taxa impositiva del 80 % en els ingressos a partir del 500.000$ o 1 milió. "Això no és per recaptar diners per a l'educació o per augmentar les prestacions d'atur.  Contràriament, no ho espera d’un impost d'aquest tipus perquè el seu propòsit és, simplement, "posar fi a aquest tipus d'ingressos”. També serà necessari imposar una taxa -del 50/60%- sobre els ingressos més baixos, com els de 200.000$. Afegeix també ha ha d'haver un impost a la riquesa anual de fins el 10 % sobre les fortunes més grans i una càrrega fiscal, d'una sola vegada, de fins el 20% sobre els nivells de riquesa més baixos. Ell, alegrement, ens assegura que res d'això reduiria el creixement econòmic, la productivitat, l'emprenedoria o la innovació.

No és que el creixement i la millora no estigui en la ment del senyor Piketty,  sin´ó que es tracta com un assumpte econòmic i com un mitjà per a una major justícia distributiva. S'assumeix que l'economia és estàtica i de suma zero; si l'ingrés d'un grup de població augmenta, un altre necessàriament ha d’empobrir-se. Ell veu la igualtat de resultats com la finalitat última i exclusivament per al seu propi bé. Objectius -tals alternatives com la maximització de la riquesa general de la societat o l'augment de la llibertat econòmica o la recerca de la major igualtat possible d'oportunitats o fins i tot, com en la filosofia de John Rawls, el que garanteix que el benestar dels més desfavorits es maximitza -són ni mínimament esmentats.

No hi ha dubte que la pobresa, la desocupació i la desigualtat d'oportunitats són els principals reptes per a les societats capitalistes, i els diversos graus de la sort, el treball dur, la mandra i el mèrit són inherents a la humanitat. El Sr Piketty no és el primer visionari utòpic. Cita, per exemple, "l’experiment soviètic" que va permetre a l'home llançar "les seves cadenes juntament amb el jou de la riquesa acumulada." En el seu relat, només va portar el desastre humà perquè les societats necessiten mercats i propietat privada per tenir una economia que funcioni. Ell diu que les seves solucions ofereixen una "resposta menys violenta i més eficient per l'etern problema del capital privat i del seu benefici. En lloc d'Austen i Balzac, el professor hauria de llegir "Rebel·lió a la Granja” i "Darkness at Noon".

Shuchman és un gestor de fons de Nova York que escriu sovint sobre el dret i l'economia.

Thomas Piketty Revives Marx for the 21st Century. By Daniel Schuman
An 80% tax rate on incomes above $500,000 is not meant to bring in money for education or benefits, but 'to put an end to such incomes.'
Wall Street Journal, April 21, 2014 7:18 p.m. ET

Thomas Piketty likes capitalism because it efficiently allocates resources. But he does not like how it allocates income. There is, he thinks, a moral illegitimacy to virtually any accumulation of wealth, and it is a matter of justice that such inequality be eradicated in our economy. The way to do this is to eliminate high incomes and to reduce existing wealth through taxation.

"Capital in the Twenty-First Century" is Mr. Piketty's dense exploration of the history of wages and wealth over the past three centuries. He presents a blizzard of data about income distribution in many countries, claiming to show that inequality has widened dramatically in recent decades and will soon get dangerously worse. Whether or not one is convinced by Mr. Piketty's data—and there are reasons for skepticism, given the author's own caveats and the fact that many early statistics are based on extremely limited samples of estate tax records and dubious extrapolation—is ultimately of little consequence. For this book is less a work of economic analysis than a bizarre ideological screed.

A professor at the Paris School of Economics, Mr. Piketty believes that only the productivity of low-wage workers can be measured objectively. He posits that when a job is replicable, like an "assembly line worker or fast-food server," it is relatively easy to measure the value contributed by each worker. These workers are therefore entitled to what they earn. He finds the productivity of high-income earners harder to measure and believes their wages are in the end "largely arbitrary." They reflect an "ideological construct" more than merit.

Soaring pay for corporate "supermanagers" has been the largest source of increased inequality, according to Mr. Piketty, and these executives can only have attained their rewards through luck or flaws in corporate governance. It requires only an occasional glance at this newspaper to confirm that this can be the case. But the author believes that no CEO could ever justify his or her pay based on performance. He doesn't say whether any occupation—athletes? physicians? economics professors who sell zero-marginal-cost e-books for $21.99 a copy?—is entitled to higher earnings because he does not wish to "indulge in constructing a moral hierarchy of wealth."

He does admit that entrepreneurs are "absolutely indispensable" for economic development, but their success, too, is usually tainted. While some succeed thanks to "true entrepreneurial labor," some are simply lucky or succeed through "outright theft." Even the fortunes made from entrepreneurial labor, moreover, quickly evolve into an "excessive and lasting concentration of capital." This is a self-reinforcing injustice because "property sometimes begins with theft, and the arbitrary return on capital can easily perpetuate the initial crime." Indeed laced throughout the book is an almost medieval hostility to the notion that financial capital earns a return.

Mr. Piketty believes that the wealthier a society becomes, the more people will claw for the best relative social station and the more inequality will ensue. He turns to those timeless economic authorities Jane Austen and Honoré de Balzac in mapping our future. Throughout the book, he importunately digresses with the dowry-chasing machinations of characters in novels like "Sense and Sensibility" and " Père Goriot. " He is obsessed with the following calculus: Are the fruits of working hard greater than those attainable by marrying into a top fortune? If not, "why work? And why behave morally at all?"

While America's corporate executives are his special bête noire, Mr. Piketty is also deeply troubled by the tens of millions of working people—a group he disparagingly calls "petits rentiers"—whose income puts them nowhere near the "one percent" but who still have savings, retirement accounts and other assets. That this very large demographic group will get larger, grow wealthier and pass on assets via inheritance is "a fairly disturbing form of inequality." He laments that it is difficult to "correct" because it involves a broad segment of the population, not a small elite that is easily demonized.

So what is to be done? Mr. Piketty urges an 80% tax rate on incomes starting at "$500,000 or $1 million." This is not to raise money for education or to increase unemployment benefits. Quite the contrary, he does not expect such a tax to bring in much revenue, because its purpose is simply "to put an end to such incomes." It will also be necessary to impose a 50%-60% tax rate on incomes as low as $200,000 to develop "the meager US social state." There must be an annual wealth tax as high as 10% on the largest fortunes and a one-time assessment as high as 20% on much lower levels of existing wealth. He breezily assures us that none of this would reduce economic growth, productivity, entrepreneurship or innovation.

Not that enhancing growth is much on Mr. Piketty's mind, either as an economic matter or as a means to greater distributive justice. He assumes that the economy is static and zero-sum; if the income of one population group increases, another one must necessarily have been impoverished. He views equality of outcome as the ultimate end and solely for its own sake. Alternative objectives—such as maximizing the overall wealth of society or increasing economic liberty or seeking the greatest possible equality of opportunity or even, as in the philosophy of John Rawls, ensuring that the welfare of the least well-off is maximized—are scarcely mentioned.

There is no doubt that poverty, unemployment and unequal opportunity are major challenges for capitalist societies, and varying degrees of luck, hard work, sloth and merit are inherent in human affairs. Mr. Piketty is not the first utopian visionary. He cites, for instance, the "Soviet experiment" that allowed man to throw "off his chains along with the yoke of accumulated wealth." In his telling, it only led to human disaster because societies need markets and private property to have a functioning economy. He says that his solutions provide a "less violent and more efficient response to the eternal problem of private capital and its return." Instead of Austen and Balzac, the professor ought to read "Animal Farm" and "Darkness at Noon."

Mr. Shuchman is a New York fund manager who often writes on law and economics.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Views from FYR of Macedonia: Russia, the West, America

Views from FYR of Macedonia: Russia, the West, America

After sharing with some people an article on new software for US military cargo helicopters to take more autonomous decisions*, a Macedonian in the group wrote (Spanish):
Si, tenemos suerte y los rusos nos defienden. Si no estamos j[xxx]dos con los americanos y sus maquinas de muerte

Translation: Yes we are lucky that the Russians defend us. If not, we would be [doomed] by the Americans and their Machines of Death.

The article: Navy Drones With a Mind of Their Own. WSJ, Apr 5, 2014.


Saturday, December 28, 2013

MRSA Infections, swine effluent lagoons, and farm consolidations

Answering to some comments in a book review, 'In Meat We Trust,' by Maureen Ogle (, WSJ, Dec. 17, 2013 6:36 p.m. ET:

A recent paper* in a FAO publication summarizes advances in hog manure management. Obviously, the cases mentioned are small in comparison with the great consolidated farms, but even so, there are multiple ways to manage better the effluents and some useful ways to profit from the lagoons/catchments are shown here.

@Mr Evangelista: I got access to the paper** you mentioned. If interested you may ask for it. I'd like, though, to calm down things. As it says other paper*** published at the same time, which it is likely it is the one Mr Blumenthal mentioned:
"In 2011,we estimated the overall number of invasive MRSA infections was 80 461; 31% lower than when estimates were first available in 2005"

The reasons are not well understood (several explanations are offered), but that is not relevant now. The important idea is that despite increasing consolidation of farm operations and an increasing population (from approx 295 million in 2005 to approx 311 million in 2011), there are 31% less MRSA infections.


* Intensive and Integrated Farm Systems using Fermentation of Swine Effluent in Brazil. By I. Bergier, E. Soriano, G. Wiedman and A. Kososki. In Biotechnologies at Work for Smallholders: Case Studies from Developing Countries in Crops, Livestock and Fish. Edited by J. Ruane, J.D. Dargie, C. Mba, P. Boettcher, H.P.S. Makkar, D.M. Bartley and A. Sonnino. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2013.

** High-Density Livestock Operations, Crop Field Application of Manure, and Risk of Community-Associated Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus Infection in Pennsylvania. By Joan A. Casey, MA; Frank C. Curriero, PhD, MA; Sara E. Cosgrove,MD, MS; Keeve E. Nachman, PhD, MHS; Brian S. Schwartz, MD,MS. JAMA Intern Med. Vol 173, No. 21, doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.10408

*** National Burden of InvasiveMethicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus Infections, United States, 2011. By Raymund Dantes, MD, MPH; Yi Mu, PhD; Ruth Belflower, RN, MPH; Deborah Aragon, MSPH; Ghinwa Dumyati, MD; Lee H. Harrison, MD; Fernanda C. Lessa, MD; Ruth Lynfield, MD; Joelle Nadle, MPH; Susan Petit, MPH; Susan M. Ray, MD; William Schaffner, MD; John Townes, MD; Scott Fridkin, MD; for the Emerging Infections Program–Active Bacterial Core Surveillance MRSA Surveillance Investigators. JAMA Intern Med. Vol 173, No. 21, doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.10423

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Riot after Chinese teachers try to stop pupils cheating. By Malcolm Moore

Riot after Chinese teachers try to stop pupils cheating. By Malcolm Moore
What should have been a hushed scene of 800 Chinese students diligently sitting their university entrance exams erupted into siege warfare after invigilators tried to stop them from cheating. The Telegraph, Jun 20, 2013

The relatively small city of Zhongxiang in Hubei province has always performed suspiciously well in China's notoriously tough "gaokao" exams, each year winning a disproportionate number of places at the country's elite universities.

Last year, the city received a slap on the wrist from the province's Education department after it discovered 99 identical papers in one subject. Forty five examiners were "harshly criticised" for allowing cheats to prosper.

So this year, a new pilot scheme was introduced to strictly enforce the rules.

When students at the No. 3 high school in Zhongxiang arrived to sit their exams earlier this month, they were dismayed to find they would be supervised not by their own teachers, but by 54 external invigilators randomly drafted in from different schools across the county.

The invigilators wasted no time in using metal detectors to relieve students of their mobile phones and secret transmitters, some of them designed to look like pencil erasers.

A special team of female invigilators was on hand to intimately search female examinees, according to the Southern Weekend newspaper.

Outside the school, meanwhile, a squad of officials patrolled the area to catch people transmitting answers to the examinees. At least two groups were caught trying to communicate with students from a hotel opposite the school gates.

For the students, and for their assembled parents waiting outside the school gates to pick them up afterwards, the new rules were an infringement too far.

As soon as the exams finished, a mob swarmed into the school in protest.

"I picked up my son at midday [from his exam]. He started crying. I asked him what was up and he said a teacher had frisked his body and taken his mobile phone from his underwear. I was furious and I asked him if he could identify the teacher. I said we should go back and find him," one of the protesting fathers, named as Mr Yin, said to the police later.

By late afternoon, the invigilators were trapped in a set of school offices, as groups of students pelted the windows with rocks. Outside, an angry mob of more than 2,000 people had gathered to vent its rage, smashing cars and chanting: "We want fairness. There is no fairness if you do not let us cheat."

According to the protesters, cheating is endemic in China, so being forced to sit the exams without help put their children at a disadvantage.

Teachers trapped in the school took to the internet to call for help. "We are trapped in the exam hall," wrote Kang Yanhong, one of the invigilators, on a Chinese messaging service. "Students are smashing things and trying to break in," she said.

Another of the external invigilators, named Li Yong, was punched in the nose by an angry father. Mr Li had confiscated a mobile phone from his son and then refused a bribe to return the handset.

"I hoped my son would do well in the exams. This supervisor affected his performance, so I was angry," the man, named Zhao, explained to the police later.

Hundreds of police eventually cordoned off the school and the local government conceded that "exam supervision had been too strict and some students did not take it well".

Additional reporting by Adam Wu

Sunday, April 28, 2013

"What a civilised society, I thought to myself"

From the speech by Lee Kuan Yew at the Imperial College Commemoration Eve Dinner, Oct 22, 2002 (

Looking back at those early years, I am amazed at my youthful innocence. I watched Britain at the beginning of its experiment with the welfare state; the Atlee government started to build a society that attempted to look after its citizens from cradle to grave. I was so impressed after the introduction of the National Health Service when I went to collect my pair of new glasses from my opticians in Cambridge to be told that no payment was due. All I had to do was to sign a form. What a civilised society, I thought to myself. The same thing happened at the dentist and the doctor.

I did not understand what a cosseted life would do to the spirit of enterprise of a pe ople, diminishing their desire to achieve and succeed. I believed that wealth came naturally from wheat growing in the fields, orchards bearing fruit every summer, and factories turning out all that was needed to maintain a comfortable life.

Only two decades later when I had to make an outdated entrepot economy feed a people did I realise we needed to create the wealth before we can share it. And to create wealth, high motivation and incentives are crucial to drive a people to achieve, to take risks for profit or there will be nothing to share.

It is remarkable that powerful minds like Sir William Beveridge's, who thought out this egalitarian welfare system, did not foresee its unintended consequences. It took more than three decades of gradual decline in performance before Margaret Thatcher set out to reverse it, to restore individual incentives and the motivation to succeed, to encourage risk-taking, necessary for a successful entrepreneurial economy.

h/t: Haseltine, William A. Affordable Excellence: The Singapore Health System. Brookings Institution Press with the National University of Singapore Press, Apr 2013

The most interesting this, to me is that this once was the norm:
Perhaps the most impressive sight I came upon was when I emerged from the tube station at Piccadilly Circus. I found a little table with a pile of newspapers and a box of coins and notes with nobody in attendance. You take your newspaper, toss in your coin or put in your 10-shilling note and take your change. I took a deep breath - this was a truly civilised people.

But, as he added:
Five decades ago, London was a grimy, sooty, bomb-scarred city, with less food, fewer cars, and deprived of the conveniences of the consumer society. But the people, then homogeneous, white, and Christians, were admirable, self-confident and courteous.

From that well-mannered Britain to the yobs and football hooligans of the 1990s took only 40 years. I learned that civilised living does not come about naturally.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

We, Too, Are Violent Animals. By Jane Goodall, Richard Wrangham, and Dale Peterson

We, Too, Are Violent Animals. By Jane Goodall, Richard Wrangham, and Dale Peterson
Those who doubt that human aggression is an evolved trait should spend more time with chimpanzees and wolvesThe Wall Street Journal,January 5, 2013, on page C3

Where does human savagery come from? The animal behaviorist Marc Bekoff, writing in Psychology Today after last month's awful events in Newtown, Conn., echoed a common view: It can't possibly come from nature or evolution. Harsh aggression, he wrote, is "extremely rare" in nonhuman animals, while violence is merely an odd feature of our own species, produced by a few wicked people. If only we could "rewild our hearts," he concluded, we might harness our "inborn goodness and optimism" and thereby return to our "nice, kind, compassionate, empathic" original selves.

If only if it were that simple. Calm and cooperative behavior indeed predominates in most species, but the idea that human aggression is qualitatively different from that of every other species is wrong.

The latest report from the research site that one of us (Jane Goodall) directs in Tanzania gives a quick sense of what a scientist who studies chimpanzees actually sees: "Ferdinand [the alpha male] is rather a brutal ruler, in that he tends to use his teeth rather a lot…a number of the males now have scars on their backs from being nicked or gashed by his canines…The politics in Mitumba [a second chimpanzee community] have also been bad. If we recall that: they all killed alpha-male Vincent when he reappeared injured; then Rudi as his successor probably killed up-and-coming young Ebony to stop him helping his older brother Edgar in challenging him…but to no avail, as Edgar eventually toppled him anyway."

A 2006 paper reviewed evidence from five separate chimpanzee populations in Africa, groups that have all been scientifically monitored for many years. The average "conservatively estimated risk of violent death" was 271 per 100,000 individuals per year. If that seems like a low rate, consider that a chimpanzee's social circle is limited to about 50 friends and close acquaintances. This means that chimpanzees can expect a member of their circle to be murdered once every seven years. Such a rate of violence would be intolerable in human society.

The violence among chimpanzees is impressively humanlike in several ways. Consider primitive human warfare, which has been well documented around the world. Groups of hunter-gatherers who come into contact with militarily superior groups of farmers rapidly abandon war, but where power is more equal, the hostility between societies that speak different languages is almost endless. Under those conditions, hunter-gatherers are remarkably similar to chimpanzees: Killings are mostly carried out by males, the killers tend to act in small gangs attacking vulnerable individuals, and every adult male in the society readily participates. Moreover, with hunter-gatherers as with chimpanzees, the ordinary response to encountering strangers who are vulnerable is to attack them.

Most animals do not exhibit this striking constellation of behaviors, but chimpanzees and humans are not the only species that form coalitions for killing. Other animals that use this strategy to kill their own species include group-living carnivores such as lions, spotted hyenas and wolves. The resulting mortality rate can be high: Among wolves, up to 40% of adults die from attacks by other packs.

Killing among these carnivores shows that ape-sized brains and grasping hands do not account for this unusual violent behavior. Two other features appear to be critical: variable group size and group-held territory. Variable group size means that lone individuals sometimes encounter small, vulnerable parties of neighbors. Having group territory means that by killing neighbors, the group can expand its territory to find extra resources that promote better breeding. In these circumstances, killing makes evolutionary sense—in humans as in chimpanzees and some carnivores.

What makes humans special is not our occasional propensity to kill strangers when we think we can do so safely. Our unique capacity is our skill at engineering peace. Within societies of hunter-gatherers (though only rarely between them), neighboring groups use peacemaking ceremonies to ensure that most of their interactions are friendly. In state-level societies, the state works to maintain a monopoly on violence. Though easily misused in the service of those who govern, the effect is benign when used to quell violence among the governed.

Under everyday conditions, humans are a delightfully peaceful and friendly species. But when tensions mount between groups of ordinary people or in the mind of an unstable individual, emotion can lead to deadly events. There but for the grace of fortune, circumstance and effective social institutions go you and I. Instead of constructing a feel-good fantasy about the innate goodness of most people and all animals, we should strive to better understand ourselves, the good parts along with the bad.

—Ms. Goodall has directed the scientific study of chimpanzee behavior at Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania since 1960. Mr. Wrangham is the Ruth Moore Professor of Biological Anthropology at Harvard University. Mr. Peterson is the author of "Jane Goodall: The Woman Who Redefined Man."

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Brookings: The Exaggerated Death of the Middle Class

The Exaggerated Death of the Middle Class. By Ron Haskins and Scott Winship
Brookings, December 11, 2012


The most easily obtained income figures are not the most appropriate ones for assessing changes in living standards; those are also the figures that are often used to reach unwarranted conclusions about “middle class decline.” For example, analysts and pundits often rely on data that do not include all sources of income. Consider data on comprehensive income assembled by Cornell University economist Richard Burkhauser and his colleagues for the period between 1979—the year it supposedly all went wrong for working Americans—and 2007, before the Great Recession.

When Burkhauser looked at market income as reported to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the basis for the top 1 percent inequality figures that inspired Occupy Wall Street, he found that incomes for the bottom 60 percent of tax filers stagnated or declined over the nearly three-decade period. Incomes in the middle fifth of tax returns grew by only 2 percent on average, and those in the bottom fifth declined by 33 percent.

Things appeared somewhat better when Burkhauser looked at the definition of income favored by the Census Bureau which, unlike IRS figures, includes government cash payments from programs like Social Security and welfare, and looks at households rather than tax returns.

Still, the income of the middle fifth only rose by 15 percent over the entire three decades, much less than 1 percent per year. The Census Bureau reports that from 2000 to 2010, the income of the middle fifth actually fell by 8 percent. With numbers like these, it’s understandable why so many people think the American middle class is under threat and in decline.

But there are three reasons why even the Census Bureau figures are deceiving. The size of U.S. households, which has been declining, is not taken into account. The figures ignore the net impact on income of government taxes and non-cash transfers like food stamps and health insurance, which benefit the poor and middle class much more than richer households, and the value of health insurance provided by employers is also left out.

Burkhauser and his colleagues show that if these factors are taken into account, the incomes of the bottom fifth of households actually increased by 26 percent, rather than declining by 33 percent. Those of the middle fifth increased by 37 percent, rather than by only 2 percent. There is no disappearing middle class in these data; nor can household income, even at the bottom, be characterized as stagnant, let alone declining. Even after 2000, estimates from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) show the bottom 60 percent of households got 10 percent richer by 2009, the most recent year available.

Making sense of income trends
Aside from the brighter picture presented by the Burkhauser and CBO analyses, there is a more complicated trend emerging in the United States. Four factors, both inside and outside the market, explain those trends.

The first market factor affecting middle-class income is a longtime trend of low literacy and math achievement in U.S. schools, which partially explains why conventional analyses of income show stagnation and decline. Young Americans entering the job market need skills valuable in a modern economy if they expect to earn a decent wage. Education and technical training are key to acquiring these skills. Yet the achievement test scores of children in literacy and math have been stagnant for more than two decades and are consistently far down the list in international comparisons.

It is true that African American and Hispanic students have closed part of the gap between themselves and Caucasian and Asian students; but the gap between students from economically advantaged families and students from disadvantaged ones has widened substantially—by 30 to 40 percent over the past 25 years.1

In a nation committed to educational equality and economic mobility, the income gap in achievement test scores is deeply problematic. Far from increasing educational equality as an important route to boosting economic opportunity, the American educational system reinforces the advantages that students from middle-class families bring with them to the classroom. Thus, the nation has two education problems that are limiting the income of workers at both the bottom and middle of the distribution: the average student is not learning enough, compared with students from other nations, and students from poor families are falling further and further behind.

It is difficult to see how students with a poor quality of education will be able to support a family comfortably in our technologically advanced economy if they rely exclusively on their earnings.

The second market factor is the increasing share of our economy devoted to health care. According to the Kaiser Foundation, employer-sponsored health insurance premiums for families increased 113 percent between 2001 and 2011. Most economists would say that this money comes directly out of worker wages. In other words, if it weren’t for the remarkable increase in the cost of health care, workers’ wages would be higher. When the portion of market compensation received in the form of health insurance is ignored in conventional analyses, income gains over time are understated.

Turning to non-market factors, marriage and childbearing increasingly distinguish the haves and have-nots.

Families have fewer children, and more U.S. adults are living alone today than in the past. As a result, households on average are better off since there are fewer mouths to feed, regardless of income. At the same time, single parenthood has grown more common, thereby increasing inequality between the poor and the middle class. Female-headed families are more than four times as likely to be in poverty, and children from these families are more likely to have trouble in school as compared with children in married-couple families. The increasing tendency of similarly educated men and women to marry each other also contributes to rising inequality.

The most important non-market factor is the net impact of government taxes and transfer payments on household income. The budget of the U.S. government for 2012 is $3.6 trillion. About 65 percent of that amount is spent on transfer payments to individuals. The biggest transfer payments are: $770 billion for Social Security, $560 billion for Medicare, $262 billion for Medicaid, and nearly $100 billion for nutrition programs. In addition to these federal expenditures, state governments also spend tens of billions of dollars on programs for low-income households. Almost all of the over $1 trillion in state and federal spending on means-tested programs (those that provide benefits only to people below some income cutoff) goes to low-income households.

Thus, taking into account the progressive nature of Social Security and Medicare benefits, the effect of government expenditures is to greatly increase household income at the bottom and reduce economic inequality.

Similarly, federal taxation—and to a lesser extent state taxation—is progressive. Americans in the bottom 40 percent of the income distribution pay negative federal income taxes because the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit actually pay cash to millions of low-income families with children.

IRS data on incomes incorporate only the small fraction of transfer income that is taxable. Census data includes all cash transfer payments but leaves out non-cash transfers—among which Medicaid and Medicare benefits are the most important—and taxes.

The bottom line is that market income has grown, and government programs have greatly increased the well-being of low-income and middle-class households. The middle class is not shrinking or becoming impoverished. Rather, changes in workers’ skills and employers’ demand for them, along with changes in families’ size and makeup, have caused the incomes of the well-off to climb much faster than the incomes of most Americans.

Rising inequality can occur even as everyone experiences improvement in living standards.

Even so, unless the nation’s education system improves, especially for children from poor families, millions of working Americans will continue to rely on government transfer payments. This signals a real problem. Millions of individuals and families at the bottom and in the middle of the income distribution are dependent on government to enjoy a decent or rising standard of living. While the U.S. middle class may not be shrinking, the trends outlined above make clear why this is no reason for complacency. Today’s form of widespread dependency on government benefits has helped stem a decline in income, but far better would be to have more people earning all or nearly all their income through work. Getting there, though, will require deeper reforms in the structure of the U.S. education system.

1 Sean F. Reardon, Wither Opportunity? Rising Inequality and the Uncertain Life Chances of Low-Income Children (New York: Russel Sage Foundation Press, 2001).

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Austerity Debate a Matter of Degree -- In Europe, Opinions Differ on Depth, Timing of Cuts; International Monetary Fund Has Change of Heart

Austerity Debate a Matter of Degree. By Stephen Fidler
In Europe, Opinions Differ on Depth, Timing of Cuts; International Monetary Fund Has Change of Heart
Wall Street Journal, February 17, 2012


In the U.S., the debate about whether the government should start cutting its budget deficit opens up a deep ideological divide. Many countries in Europe don't have that luxury.

True, there may be questions about how hard to cut budgets and how best to time the cuts, but with government-bond investors going on strike, policy makers either don't have a choice or feel they don't. Budget austerity is also a recipe favored by Germany and other euro-zone governments that hold the Continent's purse strings.

Once upon a time, the International Monetary Fund, which also provides bailout funds and lend its crisis management expertise to euro-zone governments, would have been right there with the Germans: It never handled a financial crisis for which tough austerity wasn't the prescribed medicine. In Greece, however, officials say the IMF supported spreading the budget pain over a number of years rather than concentrating it at the front end.

That is partly because overpromising the undeliverable hurts government credibility, which is essential to overcoming the crisis. But it is also because the IMF's view has shifted.

"Over its history, the IMF has become less dogmatic about fiscal austerity being always the right response to a crisis," said Laurence Ball, economics professor at Johns Hopkins University, and a part-time consultant to the IMF.

These days, the fund worries more than it did about the negative impact that cutting budgets has on short-term growth prospects—a traditional concern of Keynesian economists.

"Fiscal consolidation typically has a contractionary effect on output. A fiscal consolidation equal to 1% of [gross domestic product] typically reduces GDP by about 0.5% within two years and raises the unemployment rate by about 0.3 percentage point," the IMF said in its 2010 World Economic Outlook:

But that isn't the full story. In the first place, the IMF agrees that reducing government debt—which is what austerity should eventually achieve—has long-term economic benefits. For example, in a growing economy close with strong employment, reduced competition for savings should lower the cost of capital for private entrepreneurs.

That suggests that, where bond markets give governments the choice, there is a legitimate debate to be had about timing of austerity. The IMF economic models suggest it will be five years before the "break-even" point when the benefits to growth of cutting debt start to exceed the "Keynesian" effects of austerity.

There is an alternative hypothesis that has a lot of support in Germany, and among the region's central bankers. This is the notion that budget cutbacks stimulate growth in the short term, often referred to as the "expansionary fiscal contraction" hypothesis.

Manfred Neumann, professor emeritus of economics at the Institute for Economic Policy at the University of Bonn, said the view is also called the "German hypothesis" since it emerged from a round of German budget cutting in the early 1980s.

"The positive effect of austerity is much stronger than most people believe," he said. The explanation for the beneficial impact is that cutting government debt generates an improvement in confidence among households and entrepreneurs, he said.

The IMF concedes there may be something in this for countries where people are worried about the risk that the government might default—but only up to a point. It concedes that fiscal retrenchment in such countries "tends to be less contractionary" than in countries not facing market pressures—but doesn't conclude that budget cutting in such circumstances is actually expansionary.

Each side of the debate invokes its own favored study. Support for the "German hypothesis" comes from two Harvard economists with un-German names—Alberto Alesina and Silvia Ardagna. But their critics, who include Mr. Ball, say their sample includes many irrelevant episodes for which their model fails to correct—including, for example, the U.S. "fiscal correction" that was born out of the U.S. economic boom of the late 1990s.

Mr. Alesina didn't respond to an email asking for comment, but Mr. Neumann said he isn't confident that studies, such as the IMF's, that appear to refute the hypothesis manage to isolate the effects of the austerity policy from other effects of a financial crisis.

Some of the IMF's conclusions, however, bode ill for the euro zone's budget cutters.

The first is that the contractionary effects of fiscal retrenchment are often partly offset by an increase in exports—but less so in countries where the exchange rate is fixed. Second, the pain is greater if central banks can't offset the fiscal austerity through a stimulus in monetary policy. With interest rates close to zero in the euro zone, such a stimulus is hard to achieve. Third, when many countries are cutting budgets at the same time, the effect on economic activity in each is magnified.

If you are a government in budget-cutting mode, there are, however, better and worse ways of doing it. The IMF says spending cuts tend to have less negative impact on the economy than tax increases. However, that is partly because central banks tend to cut interest rates more aggressively when they see spending cuts.

Mr. Neumann sees an austerity hierarchy. It is better to cut government consumption and transfers, including staff costs, than government investment—though it may be harder politically. If you are raising taxes, better to raise those with no impact on incentives—such as inheritance or wealth taxes—than those that hurt incentives, such as income or payroll taxes.

Raising sales or value-added taxes may have less impact on incentives—but have other undesirable effects, such as increasing inflation, that could deter central banks from easing policy.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

U.S.-China Competition in Asia: Legacies Help America

U.S.-China Competition in Asia: Legacies Help America. BY ROBERT SUTTER
East-West Center
Feb 2012

As Sino-American competition for influence enters a new stage with the Obama administration’s re-engagement with Asia, each power’s legacies in the region add to economic, military and diplomatic factors determining which power will be more successful in the competition. How the United States and China deal with their respective histories in regional affairs and the role of their non-government relations with the Asia-Pacific represent important legacies that on balance favor the United States.

The Role of History
From the perspective of many regional government officials and observers, the United States and the People’s Republic of China both have historically very mixed records, often resorting to highly disruptive and violent measures to preserve their interests. The record of the United States in the Cold War and later included major wars in Korea and Vietnam and constant military friction along Asia’s rim as it sought to preserve military balance and deter perceived aggression. Many in Asia benefited from America’s resolve and major sacrifices. Most today see the United States as a mature power well aware of the pros and cons of past behavior as it crafts a regional strategy to avoid a potentially dangerous withdrawal and to preserve stability amid U.S. economic and budget constraints.

In contrast, rising China shows little awareness of the implications of its record in the region. Chinese officials and citizens remain deeply influenced by an officially encouraged erroneous claim that China has always been benign and never expansionist. The highly disruptive policies and practices of the People’s Republic of China under the revolutionary leadership of Mao Zedong and the more pragmatic leadership of Deng Xiaoping are not discussed. Well-educated audiences at foreign policy forums at universities and related venues show little awareness of such legacies as consistent Chinese support for the Khmer Rouge as a means to preserve Chinese interests in Southeast Asia.  China’s military invasion of Vietnam and Chinese directed insurgencies against major governments in Southeast Asia, both Western-aligned states and the strictly neutral government of Burma, seem widely unknown.

Chinese officials who should know better also refuse or are unable to deal honestly with the recent past. Speaking last year to a group of Asian Pacific including Vietnamese, American and Chinese officials and scholars deliberating over recent trends in Asia, a Chinese foreign affairs official emphasized in prepared remarks that China “has always been a source of stability in Asia.” After watching the Vietnamese participants squirm in their seats, others raised objections to such gross inaccuracy.

The Chinese lacuna regarding how it has been perceived by its neighbors encumbers China’s efforts to gain influence in the region. China has a lot to live down. Regional governments need steady reassurance that China will not employ its growing power to return to the domineering and disruptive practices that marked forty of the sixty years of the People’s Republic of China. Educated Chinese citizens and at least some responsible officials appear insensitive to this need because of ignorance. They see no requirement to compensate for the past and many criticize Chinese government actions that try to accommodate concerns of regional neighbors. The nationalistic rhetoric coming from China views neighbors as overly sensitive to Chinese assertions and coercive measures on territorial, trade and other issues which revive regional wariness that the antagonistic China of the recent past may be reemerging with greater power in the current period.

Non-government Relations

Like many countries, China’s interaction with its neighbors relies heavily on the Chinese government and other official organizations. Even areas such as trade, investment, media, education and other interchange are heavily influenced by administrative support and guidance. An exception is the large numbers of ethnic Chinese living for generations in neighboring countries, especially in Southeast Asia, which represent a source of non-government influence for China. On balance, the influence of these groups is positive for China, although suspicions about them remain in some countries.

By contrast, for much of its history, the United States exerted influence in Asia and the Pacific much more through business, religious, media, foundations, educational and other interchange than through channels dependent on government leadership and support. Active American non-government interaction with the region continues today, putting the United States in a unique position where the American non-government sector has such a strong and usually positive impact on the influence the United States exerts in the region. Meanwhile, almost 50 years of generally color-blind U.S.  immigration policy since the ending of discriminatory U.S. restrictions on Asian immigration in 1965 has resulted in the influx of millions of Asia-Pacific migrants who call America home and who interact with their countries of origin in ways that under gird and reflect well on the U.S. position in the region. No other country, with the exception of Canada, has such an active and powerfully positive channel of influence in the Asia-Pacific.

Outlook: Advantage U.S.

The primary concerns in the Asia-Pacific with stability and development mean that U.S.-Chinese competition for influence probably will focus more on persuasion than coercion. The strong American foundation of webs of positive non-government regional interchange and the Obama government’s widely welcomed re-engagement with the region contrasts with rising China’s poor awareness of its historical impact on the region and limited non-government connections.