Beginning With “P”

As Woody Allen quipped:

What’s a three syllable word beginning with “P” that means that you think everybody is against you?


1 comment

Lurching Towards Inconsequence?

I think it’s too early to draw the conclusions that J. T. Young is reaching at The Hill:

Effectively, there is no establishment candidate but Biden, and his support is not growing. Were there a viable Democrat establishment, it would be logical any supporters he lost would go to another candidate: They are not. Biden’s loss is also the establishment’s loss.

Nor are other Democrats seeking to compete in this space — despite this side of the field being uncrowded. Instead of candidates on the left looking to come here and pick up Biden’s supporters, they are staying on the left — and the establishment’s supporters are coming to them. The undecideds are too.

If two debates have not changed the leftward dynamic of the Democrat contest — but instead, reinforced it — it begs the question: What will?

Despite saying that beating Trump was the top priority, and that Biden was best positioned to capture the moderates needed to do so, Democrats clearly want a nominee from their left.

As candidates on the left drop out, as they surely will, there is no reason to believe that their supporters will go to Biden — much less any of the other establishment nonentities. Biden is the only establishment alternative and he is weakening, not gaining.

Nor are undecideds likely to look in Biden’s direction, because they have not thus far. Their early ennui makes perfect sense. Biden is entirely “known;” he is the most known candidate in the field. Yet, even with a confusing crowd on the left and no other competition in the establishment, Biden is not gaining them. There is a stronger argument that the left’s crowd is the reason for undecideds’ indecision than for a lack of information on Biden.

Democrats may need an establishment candidate to maximize their chances of beating Trump, but they clearly do not want one. One look at 2016 shows how hard they are making things for themselves.

Other than among political junkies and the most committed the 2020 election is drawing relatively little attention and by the time it is the die will already have been cast.

As I have said before I think that black voter turnout will be dispositive for Democrats and, at this point at least, Biden is the only candidate that can produce that for them. Will black turnout alone be enough to secure victory for the Democratic candidate? Stay tuned.


What the World Needs Now

I agree with the premise of the editors of the Washington Post’s remarks about Guatemala:

The rule of law, or lack thereof, is a major reason for the immediate crisis Guatemala faces, and which Mr. Giammattei will probably inherit when he takes office in January: a massive exodus to the United States. All the more reason to lament the Trump administration’s acquiescence in Mr. Morales’s de facto abolition of the U.N.-backed anticorruption effort, not to mention Ms. Aldana’s treatment.

Corrupt and abusive government is a fundamental problem, not just in Central America or throughout the developing world but in many, many countries. Heck, the government of the state in which I live is corrupt and abusive and Illinoisans are fleeing to other states, many of which no doubt have problems of corruption and lawlessness themselves.

However, I disagree with their conclusion:

If the Trump administration is smart — a big “if,” to be sure — it will not cut well-designed economic aid to Guatemala but increase it, to help the president-elect meet his legitimate development goals.

Regardless of how well-designed aid from the U. S. federal government might be it will inevitably be sidelined by Guatemala’s elites who have both the will and the power to do so. The only strategy I’ve been able to come up with is to channel the aid through NGOs dedicated to doling out aid in very small increments. That, at least, will reduce the ROI on corruption.

1 comment

Two Points

Expanding on what I wrote in my last post, I’d like to make two points. First, China is an enormous country. 30% of China = 100% of the U. S.

The second is the important of our having a diversified economy. Just as 100% of Chinese people are not capable of doing college-level work so 100% of Americans are not capable of doing college level work. At most 40-50% of Americans can do that. The only repeat only way to change that is to debase higher education in a China-like solution in which what a college education means depends on your “station in life”, something I believe that Americans would and should reject.

For three decades college preparation has been the objective of high school education. I believe that has been a grave error. Not only does it set the bar at a point that too many people just can’t clear, setting the stage for disappointment, it gives a free pass to business leaders and politicians to create a stratified economy, separated into the educated and the rest. What are we going to do, write off 40-50% of the population?

Either they’ll be left in poverty or they’ll be supported by the rest. Those who can prosper in that Brave New World will ultimately tire of that and idleness inevitably leads to mischief as the old proverb has it.

That’s why we need a diversified economy with agriculture, primary production, manufacturing, low end service jobs, white collar jobs, and professionals. And along with it we need a re-emphasis on the nobility of work.


Educating China

At Bloomberg Michael Schuman points out something else I’ve commented on from time to time:

An examination of the population more broadly, especially in the country’s vast rural hinterland, reveals that China compares poorly with many of its peers when it comes to education.

The startling findings can be found in a recent paper by scholars from Stanford University and China’s Shaanxi Normal University. Analyzing Chinese 2015 census data, the authors determined that a mere 30% of the country’s workforce — defined as all adults aged 25 to 64 — had some high-school education. Researchers argue that is a sound measure of both those workers’ skills and their ability to learn new ones on the job.

That share compares unfavorably with developed economies, where the comparable average is 78%. The proportion in the most advanced countries, including the U.S., Germany and Japan, is even loftier — over 90%.

Of course, China is a poorer country and has been for some time, so that disparity may not come as a surprise. However, China also stands up badly against other emerging economies that managed the leap into the rich leagues in the past half century, such as South Korea and Singapore. Those countries enjoyed a much higher level of high-school education before they broke through to developed status –– on average about 72% in 1980.

Nor does China match up especially well with its middle-income competitors. For instance, 46% of the working-age population in Brazil attended high school, 36% in Turkey and 34% in Mexico. China’s share is similar to much poorer Indonesia’s, at 31%.

I think that will be a persistent problem as long as China remains China. Despite its claim that 95% of its population is literate that’s a pious fiction, finessed by using a slippery definition of “literacy” that changes based on “station in life”. I would not be a bit surprised if its actual literacy rate were closer to 50% than 95%.

In Singapore most schools teach in English. South Korean schools teach in Korean using the beautiful, elegant, and ingenious Hangul writing system. China faces major impediments in education not related to poverty and even after adopting the simplified writing system presently used on the mainland those will not easily be overcome.


The Actual Labor Market Problem

Barry Ritholtz at Bloomberg:

If the U.S. labor market really were tight, wage pressure would be sending pay much higher. Instead, increases have been modest, barely keeping up with the country’s 2% inflation rate. This is evidence of widespread underemployment, which is keeping a lid on wage pressures.

which may sound familiar because it’s what I’ve been pointing out for years. Since the unemployment rate does not take the labor force participation rate into account and does not measure underemployment, it is quite possible to have low unemployment and underemployment.

There is no mystery here. It’s the classical economics explanation for what we’re seeing right now. It also contradicts any notion that the demand for labor is such that we need to import more workers.

One complication is that there is no “labor market” as such but lots of small labor markets, both geographical and within sectors of the economy. Still, what we’re seeing does not suggest any broad labor shortages.

1 comment

Getting It Off My Chest

I am no longer able to resist commenting about the breathless reporting on Jeffrey Epstein and his death (if he is, in fact, dead). I have not attempted to organize these thoughts.

The bumper crop of “conspiracy theories” surrounding it is flabbergasting so far I have encountered the following

  • He committed suicide with the complicity of a guard or guards.
  • He was murdered. (by the Clintons or any of the other powerful individuals with whom he was linked)
  • He was spirited away (by the Clintons, Mossad, etc.) and the body is a double.
  • Accidental death, the result of autoerotic hypoxia.

Have I missed any of the major strains? My only advice is to heed Occam’s Razor and Hanlon’s Razor. I don’t know what happened and barely care. It will be the subject of investigation for years and speculation for decades.

“Pedophilia” is properly used to refer to sexual attraction to prepubescent individuals. “Ephebophilia” is the term used to describe sexual attraction to adolescents aged 15-18. That is not a defense.

Why has no one pointed out the societal sexualization of children in connection with this matter? Examples abound. Two of the highest-paid female recording artists jump-started their careers as pre-teenagers or young teenagers with materials and acts with sexual content. Many couture models are rather young teenagers. What’s the dividing line between aberrance and acceptability? As another example look at the recent treatment of Dora the Explorer. As one individual I know put it, Dora should be more Shirley Temple and less Lupe Velez. Hollywood has managed to sexualize material that is very much not sexualized in the original.

1 comment

Is Anti-Technology More Important Than Reducing Emissions?

I wonder when it’s going to dawn on those who genuinely believe that carbon emissions are a threat to human existence that the only practical solution to the problem is carbon capture? The editors of the Washington Post come dangerously close to realizing that:

Climate change is usually associated with power plant smokestacks pumping out carbon dioxide. But a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions results from agriculture and related changes in the way people use land. A study released last month by the United Nations, the World Bank and the World Resources Institute, an environmental think tank, found that if agriculture gets no more efficient before mid-century, humans will have to wipe out most of the rest of the world’s forests, kill off countless species and blow past dangerous global warming thresholds to feed the expanding population. Even if agricultural productivity rises at typical rates, humans will still need to clear land equivalent to twice the size of India. Meanwhile, reforesting land, not clearing it, is high on the to-do list for restraining global greenhouse gas emissions, since growing plants absorb and store carbon dioxide.

Environmentalists have stressed that meat-heavy diets tend to produce lots of emissions, since grazing animals require lots of cleared land, and they produce methane — a potent greenhouse gas — as they digest. One of the study’s authors found that the average European’s diet produces as many greenhouse gas emissions as her consumption of everything else. Unsurprisingly, the report recommends moderating — though far from eliminating — consumption of red meat.

But that is not the only answer. Humans have to get much better at growing more on less land. Raising cows more quickly, through better managing their feed and other measures, would mean less time grazing and emitting methane before they produce meat for market. New feed additives could also cut how much methane is emitted by grazing animals. Using new gene editing techniques could produce crops that boost farm efficiency and produce fewer greenhouse emissions. Employing new food preservation technologies on produce would prevent useless rot and waste.

A new and more accurate accounting method enabled one of the researchers, Princeton University’s Tim Searchinger, to calculate that biofuels are actually environmental villains: “Using ethanol or biodiesel contributes two to three times the greenhouse gas emissions of gasoline or diesel over more than 30 years,” he found. Government subsidies for biofuels should end. Meanwhile, governments should enforce strict protections for existing forests, keeping their biodiversity unharmed and tons of carbon dioxide sequestered in their plant growth. Agricultural lands on the margins of usefulness should be restored as forests or peatlands.

My guess is that it will still take awhile. Neo-Malthusianism will continue to hold sway for a while yet. That, uncomfortably, preaches that India and Nigeria and the other countries of sub-Saharan Africa need to lower their birthrates.

Every single measure proposed to reduce carbon emissions will produce carbon emissions: ending the consumption of meat, building electric cars, expanding the power grid to support electric cars, rebuilding and refurbishing all of the present buildings, wind and solar power. The only measure that doesn’t is carbon capture.


Their Motivations Are Different

I think that the editors of the Washington Post make assumptions about the Chinese leadership all too common among Western pundits:

The right answer for President Xi Jinping and for Ms. Lam, if she remains in office, is to open serious negotiations with the protesters on their demands, which are quite reasonable. Cinching the noose ever tighter, as the Chinese government has done in recent weeks, is the pathway to a dead end that could harm both Hong Kong and mainland China economically as well as politically. A cliff looms, and China’s leaders should turn back before it is too late.

which is that the forces that impel the Chinese leadership are similar to those of Western politicians and their attitudes are much like their own. That’s an error. The Chinese leadership has political motivations but it has nothing to do with popular politics are the esteem of Western elites. We don’t know what the political forces are within the Politburo but they certainly exist. That’s the only politics that matters to the Chinese leadership. It is only important to them to keep the Han Chinese people docile and their regard for non-Han Chinese people is even lower. I’m surprised they’ve treated the Uighurs as gently as they have.

So far there are few signs of unrest within mainland China or at least few visible to us so the plans of the leadership seem to be working just fine.

1 comment

What Are the Important Issues?

Rather than posting on the scandals and news stories to which the media are devoting so much attention today, I’d prefer to ask a question. What are the most important issues of the day for the United States? I think they are

  • Immigration
  • Our overextended military
  • Health care costs
  • General government misfeasance and incompetence
  • Cybersecurity
  • Hyperpoliticization for its own sake

What do you think the big issues are?