Thursday, September 25, 2014


I spend much of my day thinking of useless things like football, fantasy football, politics, people that annoy me, my wife (that's redundant), the future of my career, money security, whether I'm a useless sack of shit, etc.

My impression is that ridiculously successful people think constantly about their craft. Richard Feynman was tinkering with mechanical and electrical things at 10. Obsessively. By 13 he was devouring calculus textbooks. He liked the stuff. And then there's the stereotype of great scientists who walk headlong into traffic because their minds are busy manipulating solar systems.

Which you gets wondering: how much does obsession matter?

I'm not talking merely about working hard and focused for 70 hours a week. I'm talking about folks who just can't help it, no matter what they're doing- showering, eating, bearing their wife's babble- they can't help it, some cognitive restoring force nudges their attention back home to their obsession. Here's Sam Walton:
It’s almost embarrassing to admit this, but it’s true: there hasn’t been a day in my adult life when I haven’t spent some time thinking about merchandising. I suspect I have emphasized item merchandising and the importance of promoting items to a greater degree than most any other retail management person in this country. It has been an absolute passion of mine. It is what I enjoy doing as much as anything in the business. I really love to pick an item—maybe the most basic merchandise—and then call attention to it. We used to say you could sell anything if you hung it from the ceiling. So we would buy huge quantities of something and dramatize it. We would blow it out of there when everybody knew we would have only sold a few had we just left it in the normal store position. It is one of the things that has set our company apart from the very beginning and really made us difficult to compete with. And, man, in the early days of Wal-Mart it really got crazy sometimes.
Tricking hillbillies to buy bulk flyswatters they don't need gives Walton a boner. Maybe it's a coincidence that he's spawned a tribe of retail billionaires. Probably not.

What fraction of my waking hours since I turned 20 have I spent consumed by work, or thoughts useful to work? By "consumed" I mean in a state of flow, like you experience playing a fun video game? That rules out any time spent working hungover, or tired, or detached, slouched in my chair hurrying to finish something Good Enough, or passively reading a book. And by "useful to work" I'm quite permissive: any kind of stock research, any kind of study on math, business, econ, and science. I'll even give partial credit to political crap if genuinely consumed in it, since rational analysis is a general skill worth practicing.

It's a low number. It can't be more than two hours per day, or 1/8th of my waking hours. And it might be much lower. That's simultaneously embarrassing and promising since it implies I'm lying flat on my ass staring way up at my ceiling.

People like Greg Cochran got me thinking about this because the guy seems superhuman. The breadth and depth of his knowledge boggles my mind. Reading Cochran feels like getting tomahawked on by Lebron James; depending on your mood it's either cool or sorta frustrating. Sure his IQ is probably 160. But I wonder too: does this guy spend, say, half of his waking hours immersed in something?

Seems worth thinking about ways to increase my immersion quotient. You can't brute force it, the mind won't cooperate. Several ideas:
  • Find compromises between the Best and Easiest things to do. Do the Best thing that's interesting at the moment.
  • Cut out absorbing but useless things like fantasy football, sports in general, TV, political porn, etc. Like, literally, cut them out entirely, and then maybe everything else will seem a bit more interesting.
  • Use self-created Anki cards. Rifle through to stimulate interest and ideas. Use them as a launching pad, something to do between work, to find the next thing interesting thing to work on.
  • In down time use Anki i-phone to tear your mind from whatever neurotic, pathetic, useless shit you're thinking about to something better. (I'm increasingly convinced that the stickiness of memories and connections depends lots on the sheer frequency of recall.)
  • Notice that entirely novel topics are frustrating, entirely redundant topics are boring, and partially redundant ones are ideally interesting and useful. Focus on building out from your existing base one overlapping piece at a time, until your web consumes more and more of what you encounter. Notice that formerly boring topics become interesting once you understand them a bit better, which implies that, as your web expands, more topics become interesting, and the Best thing to do may also be interesting more frequently.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Trayvon Round 2 in Ferguson

Initially, we hear that a white cop shot a black, unarmed, freshly minted high school graduate. The pretense was something like jaywalking, but of course the real impetus was irrational racial prejudice. The cop was white, the 'victim' was black. What more do you need to know? 
In response, a feral gang of youths (or teens, or whatever--insert the euphemism of your choice here) violently beganlooting and destroying local businesses. And if not naturally, they did so at least understandably--that is, after all, what civilized people do when they feel aggrieved. They smash stuff!
Those who focused on the mob violence were accused of missing the real story, the lack of "social justice", preferring instead to allow their own lying eyes to maintain the vicious stereotypes they'd constructed and maintained in their own minds--the sorts of heuristics that tell them blacks are nearly eight times as likely to commit violent crimes as whites are. That these facts are, well, facts, isn't important. What is important is that they are Racist and therefore should be dismissed out of hand.
Still dusting off from the pounding they took from the truth in the Trayvon Martin case, the major media recklessly descended upon the inner St. Louis suburb no one in their ranks had ever heard of a month ago and got to work transmitting the official Narrative to the nation.
That narrative started to fall apart immediately. Against the wishes of the US Justice Department, local sources managed to get a hold of convenience store footage showing Michael Brown filching from and then bullying an ethnic store clerk. It's unfortunate the public was able to view the footage, but we should still be grateful that our government is doing all it can to protect our right not to know.
"Character assassination!" came the cries of professional race hustlers and shakedown artists, as though content of character is irrelevant in evaluating an event in which eyewitness accounts differ as to what exactly transpired. It clearly wasn't irrelevant to the mob of looters who errantly targeted an uninvolved QuikTrip under the faulty presumption that it was the store that had reported Brown's cigar theft.
"The cop didn't know Brown was suspected of stealing!" That may be utter bullshit on its face, as the cop, Darren Wilson, conceivably could have put two and two together after seeing Brown and his friend walking in the middle of the road with a box of cigars. But even if Wilson was unaware for the duration of the encounter, Brown knew what he had done and acted accordingly in his confrontation with Wilson.
bloodied face and fractured eye socket exposed more mendacity in the official Narrative. Brown physically assaulted Wilson. During the assault, it looks as though Wilson's gun discharged. 
As pillar after pillar of the Narrative crumbles, the Establishment is now taking refuge in the assertion that Brown was fleeing the scene when he was fatally shot. Attorney General Eric Holder ordered a third autopsy performed after the first two didn't return the results he desired (this one putting little emphasis on the THC levels in Brown's body at the time he was killed; marijuana is, after all, benevolent and has no affect whatsoever on inhibition or the lack thereof!). This is the same sage who bullied Missouri state officials into calling off National Guard troops, resulting in a couple more days of unchecked violence and looting in Ferguson before St. Louis county took charge of the situation. A real class act, that Holder. 
The Ferguson police department says it has over a dozen witnesses who claim Brown was charging Wilson when he was given the coup de grace.
Even if the Establishment finally gets some 'good news' (ie, Wilson acted out of line, justice wasn't served, and an abuse of police power occurred) on this last account, it makes for a pretty pathetic illustration of what Steve Sailer describes as putatively being "one of the Defining Events of Our Time, a Searing Indictment of the National Crisis of the White Racist Power Structure Murdering Black Babies." Rather, it's "just another local police blotter item of crazy ass behavior in the ‘hood? I don’t care what race you are, if you are in a dispute with a cop and thrust your head into his police car and then his gun goes off hurting and no do doubt scaring him, it’s highly likely additional bad things are going to happen."
In a country of 320 million people, this is the story the Establishment chooses to spotlight in its ongoing effort to spin a story diametrically at odds with the empirical realities on the ground? Again, Steve:
"[The Establishment] needs Incidents, ideally involving white men murdering innocent blacks. But, that just doesn’t happen much, our entire system is obsessed with punishing it when it does happen, and the Obamas and Holders and the press are dependent upon potential examples being brought forward to their attention by mobs exacting pogroms upon convenience stores for snitching. And mobs are notably bad at careful evaluation of the evidence."
The desperation to impugn middle class white America would almost be funny if it weren't so dangerous. Twenty years ago, Ferguson was predominantly white. Then Section 8 housing was imposed on the southeast side of the city. Predictably crime, poverty, illegitimacy, and uncivic behavior all increased. Whites began fleeing, and now the place is in the process of becoming unlivable by middle class American standards. This stuff is so drearily predictable, which is why everyone is so obsessed with 'location, location, location' when deciding upon where to live. The only way to avoid this stuff is to stay a step ahead of it. The Decline and Fall of the American Republic is being written as we speak.
Parenthetically, the complaint about the police being overly militarized is a non-starter. If you're in a battle, you need to be in it to win. The access to 'excessive' force is not a problem, it's a necessity. Arbitrarily trying to handicap the situation so that criminal elements have a fighting chance against the police is madness. That said, it need also be noted that this issue is separate from the one of police abuses of power, which is of course a problem to varying degrees in various locations and situations.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Permanently High Plateau

I think asset valuations have permanently moved higher. The number around which P/E's mean revert, or the range within which they cyclically bounce, has jumped. Same goes for interest rates- low is the new normal. Some relevant links: Tyler Cowen, Scott Sumner, Brad DeLong and Philosophical Economics.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Rich Lowry's Reading Comprehension

His review of Greg Clark's "A Farewell To Alms":
TO what do we owe our 20-pound Butterball turkeys, our high-definition TVs, our spacious and warm homes this Thanksgiving? Something that won’t be high on anyone’s list of things to be grateful for – a centuries-old economic revolution that changed the very terms of human existence. 
In his eye-opening new book, “A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World,” Gregory Clark produces a chart tracking income per person throughout history. By Clark’s account, it is essentially flat from 1000 B.C. to A.D. 1800. Then, income per person exploded upward, coinciding with the Industrial Revolution that first arrived in England. Without it, most of us would still be living poor, nasty, brutish and short lives. 
How poor? “The average person in the world of 1800 was no better off than the average person of 100,000 B.C.,” Clark argues. “Life expectancy was no higher in 1800 than for hunter-gatherers: 30 to 35 years. Stature, a measure both of the quality of diet and of children’s exposure to disease, was higher in the Stone Age than in 1800.” 
Throughout most of history, Clark argues, humankind was caught in a “Malthusian trap”: Economic advances were outpaced by resulting population growth that made it impossible for living standards to increase. The massive productivity gains of the Industrial Revolution broke the trap and created modern life. 
“The richest modern economies are now 10 to 20 times wealthier than the 1800 average,” Clark writes. In these economies, it is the unskilled who have benefited most. “Unskilled male wages in England have risen more since the Industrial Revolution than skilled wages,” Clark writes, “and this result holds for all advanced economies.” There have always been very rich people. What’s changed in the last 200 years is the growth of wealth and its spread.
That's fine. The bullshit starts now.
It all started in England, and there’s a roiling academic debate about why. Clark attributes it partly to the slow but sure spread of middle-class values in England: Literacy and numeracy increased, hours worked rose and interpersonal violence declined. 
In his new book “God and Gold: Britain, America, and the Making of the Modern World,” Walter Russell Mead picks up the story. England embarked on its capitalist revolution at exactly the time when “the country that mastered this new system would gather rewards that far outstripped all the treasures of any empire in the past.” With that came world power. England reaped the benefits first, then its successor as a superpower, America. 
The formulas for the two countries’ success have been the same: “An open, dynamic and capitalist society generated innovations in finance, technology, marketing and communications. Those innovations offered the open society enormous advantages in world trade. The wealth gained in this way provided the basis for military power that could withstand the largest and mightiest rival empires of the day.” The effect was to empower two liberal societies that had the wherewithal to beat back dictatorial challenges from continental Europe – from Napoleon’s France to Hitler’s Germany to Stalin’s Russia. 
So the miracle that started 200 years ago marches on. “Industrial societies appear to be doubling their rate of technological progress every 10 years,” Mead writes. “If this continues, . . . the 21st century will experience the equivalent of 20,000 years of ‘normal’ human progress.” 
So long as it remains an open and dynamic economy, the United States is positioned to stay at the heart of this progress. Thank goodness for that, and pass the drumstick.
Lowry titled his review "Giving Thanks to Capitalism", as if Clark attributed the industrial revolution to the emergence of capitalism; in reality, Clark mocks that view throughout his book. Lowry likely thinks Naomi Klein's a big fan of Milton Friedman. Here's Clark (all remaining quotes are Clark's):
The popular misconception of the preindustrial world is of a cowering mass of peasants ruled by a small, violent, and stupid upper class that extracted from them all surplus beyond what was needed for subsistence and so gave no incentives for trade, investment, or improvement in technology. These exclusive and moronic ruling classes were aided in their suppression of all enterprise and innovation by organized religions of stultifying orthodoxy, which punished all deviation from established practices as heretical. The trial and condemnation of Galileo Galilei by the Holy Inquisition in 1633, for defending the Copernican view that the earth revolved around the sun (figure 8.1), seems an exemplar of the reign of superstition and prejudice that was responsible for the long Malthusian night. There may have been societies before 1800 that fit this popular stereotype. There were frequent attempts by religious authorities to impose fallacious dogmas about the natural world. But we shall see that, as an explanation of the slow technological advance of the world as a whole before 1800, the prevailing view makes no sense. It is maintained only by a contemporary variety of dogmatism—that of modern economics and its priestly cast. The central vision of modern economics, the key message of Adam Smith in 1776 and of his followers, is that people are the same everywhere in their material preferences and aspirations. They behave differently only because of differences in incentives. Given the right incentives—low tax rates on earnings, security of property and of the person, free markets in goods and labor—growth is guaranteed. The long Malthusian night persisted because of the inability of all societies before 1800 to create such institutions...
These empirical studies of past societies, however, rather than confirming Smith’s hypothesis, systematically find that many early societies had all the prerequisites for economic growth, but no technological advance and hence no growth. While all societies before 1800 displayed slow rates of technological advance, some had institutions as favorable to economic growth as any the current World Bank could wish for. Economic historians thus inhabit a strange netherworld. Their days are devoted to proving a vision of progress that all serious empirical studies in the field contradict. Trapped in this ever-tightening intellectual death spiral, they can maintain the vision only though a strange intellectual dissonance, appealing to more and more elaborate conceptions of how early institutions could unwittingly have provided poor incentives.
Clark spent 500+ pages screaming "not just capitalism" which Lowry interpreted as "rah capitalism". Clark:
Thus at the time the Wealth of Nations was published in 1776, when the Malthusian economy still governed human welfare in England, the calls of Adam Smith for restraint in government taxation and unproductive expenditure were largely pointless. Good government could not make countries rich except in the short run, before population growth restored the equilibrium.
Whereas Lowry talks about the spread of "middle-class values" in England, Clark talks about the spread of middle-class people, "constant downward mobility", driven by iterated differential reproduction.
The poorest individuals in Malthusian England had so few surviving children that their families were dying out. Preindustrial England was thus a world of constant downward mobility. Given the static nature of the Malthusian economy, the superabundant children of the rich had to, on average, move down the social hierarchy in order to find work. Craftsmen’s sons became laborers, merchants’ sons petty traders, large landowners’ sons smallholders. The attributes that would ensure later economic dynamism—patience, hard work, ingenuity, innovativeness, education—were thus spreading biologically throughout the population.
Why did the Malthusian economy persist for so long? Why did it end in England in 1800. And why have the economies of the world diverged so sharply since 1800? Those are the three great questions of economic history, per Clark, and the last third of his book is dedicated to the question of divergence- Lowry must've missed this section, too.
Why has world development since the Industrial Revolution demonstrated the surprising divergence described in the previous chapter? This question has occasioned a mountain of printed pages, and a storm of debate, ever since the increasing gap between rich and poor nations became apparent in the late nineteenth century. Commentators, having visited climate, race, nutrition, education, and culture, have persistently returned to one theme: the failure of political and social institutions in poor countries. Yet, as we shall see, this theme can be shown to manifestly fail in two ways. It does not describe the anatomy of the divergence we observe: the details of why poor countries remain poor. And the medicine of institutional and political reform has failed repeatedly to cure the patient. Yet, like the physicians of the prescientific era who prescribed bloodletting as the cure for ailments they did not understand, the modern economic doctors continue to prescribe the same treatment year after year through such cult centers as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. If the medicine fails to cure, then the only possible conclusion is that more is needed.
Like I said, Lowry is dense.

For those who don't know, Lowry's the editor of the supposedly right-wing (increasingly left-wing, because it purges anyone who might understand Greg Clark's book) National Review. From 2000-2008 the republican party was essentially run by people like him. Morons, whose idea of national greatness Steve Sailer summarized nicely: "invade the world, invite the world, in hock to the world". These are the guys who wanted to bring democracy, by the sword, to the entire mid-east, while inviting much of Latin America to live in the US. A good heuristic: anything Lowry thinks is true and important is false and immaterial- and vice versa.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

GNXP's interview with Greg Clark

1. In some early work, you wondered why workers in British cotton mills were so much more productive than workers in Indian cotton mills. You discuss this in the last chapter of A Farewell to Alms. You looked at a lot of the usual explanations-incentives, management, quality of the machines-and none of them really seemed to explain the big gap in productivity. Finally, you seemed to turn to the idea that it's differences between the British and Indian workers themselves-maybe their culture, maybe their genes-that explained the difference. How did you come to that conclusion? 
Clark: I came to economics as an undergraduate expecting, as is the central view of economics, that the explanation for wealth and poverty would ultimately be located in social institutions and that people everywhere have basically the same aspirations and abilities.
But unlike most of my colleagues in economics I have always been interested in the mechanisms, and the fine details, of how things actually function. Much of modern economics is entirely theoretical, and even most empirical work in economics involves just looking at very high level correlations between variables such as income per person and education, or democracy, or the openness of trade.
When I set out in my PhD thesis to try and explain differences in income internationally in 1910 I found that asking simple questions like "Why could Indian textile mills not make much profit even though they were in a free trade association with England which had wages five times as high?" led to completely unexpected conclusions. [that indians work only 15 minutes of each hour on the job.] You could show that the standard institutional explanation made no sense when you assembled detailed evidence from trade journals, factory reports, and the accounts of observers. Instead it was the puzzling behavior of the workers inside the factories that was the key.
 2. Your book is clearly a call for a new research agenda in the fields of economic growth and economic history, one focusing less on institutions and more on what we might broadly call "labor quality." But your key hypotheses seem to turn on the question of how and why entire workforces change across the centuries, and involve questions of culture, child-rearing methods, and perhaps human genetics-fields quite outside the expertise of most economists. If you could command an army of, say, biologists, anthropologists, and neuroscientists to test your hypotheses about long-term changes in labor quality, what would you have them work on? 
Clark: That is a great question. If, as is possible, the pre-industrial era changed people genetically to be better adapted to market economies, then a systematic comparison of the DNA of societies should find correlations between gene frequencies and the histories of these societies. If genetic change was also occurring in historical time, as opposed to the pre-historic era, then we would expect these changes to be incomplete even in societies with a long history of settled agriculture. In that case we would actually predict class differences genetically! The rich in these societies would differ genetically from the poor in certain systematic ways! All this should be testable at some point.
If the change was purely cultural, then we still might be able to discover systematic behavioral differences between poor and rich in modern capitalist society, such as over time preference rates, that correlate with differences between rich and poor societies.
10 questions in all.

Friday, August 8, 2014


Some people try hard to show that they're not trying hard. Picture Manny Ramirez, hair all mussed up, jersey four sizes too big, loafing his ass to first base.

Ramirez gives the impression that he doesn't care. And that's the point. Excellence is impressive. Indifferent excellence is astounding. Manny's a natural and he wants you to know it. Maybe he doesn't consciously think these thoughts. It's more like Manny's got some unconscious mental machinery that knows how to signal "I've got great genes".

And it's hard not to notice that swag varies between groups. Asians have none of it, Germans have little more, Italians have a good bit of it, and Blacks are swag personified.

Groups vary in how much swag they've got, and in how much they want. Many Asians and Wasps would rather be regarded as hardworking overachievers than lazy naturals, whereas the reverse is true among blacks. Why is this?

Cads vs. Dads:
  • In tropical, hunter-gatherer societies food is abundant because growing seasons are year-round, and frequent violence keeps population density low. Thus, would be moms put more weight on dad's genes than his character. And would be dads show off their genes.
  • In contrast, in northern/farming societies with law-enforcing States, population density is high, food is scarce, and must be stored in winter. Better build some shelter too. In that case, doesn't matter if your kid is wired to have Lebron's body, and Einstein's brain; if a hard-working daddy doesn't stick around for a few years, the kid is dead.
I'm guessing black people find the movie Rudy rather confusing and pathetic. I sympathize.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Feminists not good at is-ought distinctions

1) Men vary in their propensity to violence.
2) Circumstances vary in their likelihood to provoke violence.
3) It's common sense to reduce your exposure to the wrong kinds of men in the wrong kinds of circumstances.

Pretty simple. And that's what Stephen A. Smith is saying here:

"What I’ve tried to employ the female members of my family — some of who you all met and talked to and what have you — is that ... let’s make sure we don’t do anything to provoke wrong actions, because if I come — or somebody else come, whether it’s law enforcement officials, your brother or the fellas that you know — if we come after somebody has put their hands on you, it doesn’t negate the fact that they already put their hands on you."

ESPN, The World Wide Leader in Political Correctness, suspended Smith to silence the ratcheting chorus of shrieking feminazi's, too stupid to separate ought from is.

So I was just forced to watch this morning's First Take. A) I'll never feel clean again B) I'm now aware that I can provoke my own beating.

Whoa, check your white privilege, Michelle. Not everyone can safely ignore reality. Are you aware that: "In females were murdered by males at a rate of 2.61 per 100,000 in single victim/single offender incidents. For white women, the rate was 0.99 per 100,000." Smith, who is black, might not know the numbers, but he's experienced the score I'm sure.

#SuspendBeadle, #BeadleHitler