Randoms of the day

Aretae on economists and engineers. As someone who was educated as an economist and an engineer, I have to disagree. Both disciplines teach you that life is about trade-offs. That was the fundamental lesson that one should take away from both. Unfortunately, modern economists now teach you that you can solve all your problems using "science" by which they’re referring to statistical analysis. You could make a strong argument that the financial crisis was caused by economic models and therefore by economic PhDs. These people are not characterized by their skepticism of their own ability to understand complex systems. If engineers built bridges like economists built models, people would regularly be falling through broken bridges.

OneSTDV asks if we’re all liberals now. As you know, my answer is "yes." Matthew Yglesias also links to a study which finds that the North fought to protect its manufacturing interests.

Steve Sailer wonders how SWPLs will keep black kids out of their schools (I’m paraphrasing). This has already started happening in my neighborhood in DC – but only at the elementary level. The biggest problem around me is increasing the critical mass of white people. If all the SWPLs actually sent their kids to the public schools, the public schools would probably be fine. DC allows kids to get into schools outside their immediate neighborhood through a lottery, so if you can get all the white kids in the neighborhood to actually attend the local school, you can keep others out. It’s taken about seven years of work, but the elementary schools around me are now usable for upper middle class kids. The parents that took over the elementary school just started taking over the middle school last year. Frankly, property values do most of the work of getting smart kids in the district. The next step is to draw specific boundaries for each school. The next step is to enforce the boundaries (a lot of kids whose families live in MD attend DC schools via a relative, b/c DC has free day care – getting the cops to crack down on this is hard work). The next step is convincing enough white people to send their kids to school.

A Stephen King short story in The Atlantic is actually pretty good. Some interesting thoughts on class too.


16 Responses to Randoms of the day

  1. Handle says:

    As someone trained (at various times in my life) as a Scientist, Manager, and Economist (inter alia), I find Aretae’s statement to be very much at odds with my understanding of these disciplines, except for “manager”, but “how to get people to do what you need, when you need it” is pretty general. Salesmen learn to psychologically influence in a manner than can be described the same way, but sales in not management.

    As for Sailor, I don’t think he’s quite correct. The Upper-Middle Class SWPL’s will succeed in “gentrifying” certain currently ghetto / inner-urban areas to the point where they can recolonize their own public schools in desirable locales, but it will only happen in certain special cognitive-concentrator places.

    I would go further and say that it will happen in places that never had any business being ghettos in first place and would never have been but for the artificial government interventions that somehow prevented property values from naturally rising to the level commensurate with the desirability of the real estate and keeping “affordable housing consumers” on the turf. You can tell these areas from the fact that they already border highly-desirable wealthy areas which cannot expand or accommodate the demand.

    I think DC, Manhattan, and parts of San Francisco are obvious candidates. Portland and Seattle are debatable. But in the rest of the country, the former thriving and now bombed-out downtowns have permanently lost their appeal, and they are too distant to form a short, continuous “land-bridge” of race and class to the giant reserves of SWPL’s in the suburbs. In these areas, younger SWPL’s are more likely to abandon the old urban core and create altogether new “hip downtown” areas.

    • PRCalDude says:

      I’d argue that the cities you’ve mentioned are actually the best candidates for going the way of ancient Merv.

  2. Sardonic_sob says:

    Neither an economist nor an engineer, but I would say that the difference is that engineers consider it, usually, more important to avoid catastrophes than to achieve additional performance by applying untested/untestable theories to major systems. This is exactly the opposite approach economists seem to prefer.

    Furthermore, engineers rarely blame the steel or the silicon when *they* screw up. Economists always have excuse on the, “if the data conflict with the theory, discard the data” line of thinking. Anybody who says their beautiful theory can undone by a failure of “animal spirits” is barely one step up from a shaman.

  3. dearieme says:

    “one step up from a shaman”: what persuades you that the direction is up?

  4. aretae says:

    I’ll admit to the bias that I think Hayek was the most important thinker of the 20th century, his insights concerning the central planning problem (central planning necessarily fails for large multi-agent systems). I’ll also admit that that’s not the primary thing that economists are taught.

    On the other hand…engineers do, almost universally, have this suspicious notion that they can fix problems via better design.

    • Handle says:

      Engineers in many fields have a long track record of being able to refine and improve designs in their area of competence over time – their notion is therefore empirical and rational. It is when they extend that notion (almost, “instinct” or “presumptive bias”) to areas outside their competence where the error lies.

      But one should be careful to avoid conflating the misplaced faith in “central planning” with a more reasonable confidence in the capacity of an institution, adequately empowered, resourced, and incentivized, to respond, innovate, adapt and ameliorate its processes and procedures over time (something Hayek himself described at length in The Constitution Of Liberty)

      The Left, for example, tends to have an awesome, blind, and unquestioning faith in the ability of a bunch of pure-souled bureaucrats, given enough infinitely-flexible legal authority and budget allocation, to solve all our problems.

      Put a bunch of smart, selfless, right-thinking folks together and they can eventually learn to optimally direct the traffic of society. They’ll be given a mission or problem statement, do a study, analyze the results, write a report, make some decisions, implement some regulations, penalize and ensure compliance, supervise the citizens, hand out the transfers, tax and subsidize, educate and spread “awareness” and voila! The Nanny State.

      The Right has an equal and opposite Skepticism of the bureaucracy’s effectiveness both from a more realistic view of Human Nature and the now long, tragic experience we’ve had with awful government.

      The problem with criticizing this faith, however, is that it’s not necessarily unrealistic. Private Corporations and certain Military units are created out of thin air with just a good starting “seed structure”, tasked to accomplish something new, and they do indeed develop amazingly functional institutions through trial-and-error, Schumpeterian creative destruction, after-action reviews, learning from success and failure, and setting up a self-evolving structure.

      So why not bureaucracy? Why do companies and militaries work so much better (not that they work great, but it’s all relative) than the civil service? The answer is basically “Accountability”.

      Accountability involves three things: (1) Personal Accountability, (2) Maintenance of Ex-Ante Justification, and (3) Reality Testing.

      1. Personal Accountability just means that a bureaucrat is properly incentivized and that his interests are adequately aligned with both the accomplishment of the goal of his unit, and the overall interest of his employers – the public at large. “Public Choice” theory tells us that this is usually not at all the case in the civil service.

      2. Ex-Ante Justification means that new systems or institutions should make certain assertions regarding expected costs and benefits, establish metrics for both in advance, and be self-expiring or have a built-in trigger for “sun-setting” or “renewal” should they fail to achieve their purported advantage. This is how many private-to-private contracts are negotiated, which provides for rational risk-sharing based on real-time continuous reassessment, as opposed to one-shot legislation where the consequences are the critical issue but can’t be predicted by anyone.

      3. Reality Testing means that the organization as a whole is properly incentivized to deliver results because success is well defined, easily measurable in the short-term, and actual performance is critical to ongoing survival. In the military, if you aren’t doing things properly the Enemy kills your Soldiers. In the Corporate world the analogy would be competition and profits. You can’t fake it, or bullshit your way around failure.

      Both organizational systems are hierarchical and designed around evolution of best-practices and strong personal accountability. There’s a good reason for that.

      That’s why Reactionaries reject so much of the design and functioning of the modern State Apparatus and call it “bad government”.

      In Federalist 51, Madison wrote:

      If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.

      Madison is saying that Sacred Democracy isn’t enough to control government. We need “auxiliary precautions”. The Left believes that Civil Servants (and Journalists, and Academics …) are angels. The Right believes they are just weak sinner humans, and that humans + real power tends to produce a few devils, and that our “auxiliary precautions” are today entirely inadequate in the era of Omnipotent Administration.

      • Alrenous says:

        I almost didn’t read this. But I post my own long comments…

        I learned I need to hook more aggressively and quickly.

        Second I should be more aware of the likelihood it won’t get read.

        In other news I want to see an organization actually test for angelic qualities instead of assuming them, to see what happens. Do angels lose their wings? Don’t exist? Maybe it works?

    • Alrenous says:

      I find making a distinction between ‘modern’ and ‘Austrian’ economists allows you both to be right.

      Though be careful talking about ‘fundamental lessons’ or ‘essential insights.’ It is easy to succumb to illusions of simplicity in overwhelmingly complex subjects.

  5. Well says:

    Gentrification is awesome if you have a well paying and secure job in government… what’s the step that allows the rest of us to have kids and send them to functioning, safe schools?

    • Alrenous says:

      Start your own school.
      Give up.

      Pick one. ‘Function government school’ is a contradiction in terms, probably even in these gentrified places.

  6. RS says:

    ‘Serious artists’, as a body, have never considered Stephen King untalented, they only think he’s used his talent oddly on the whole.

    • Piglet says:

      I’d also say that most people are not aware, given his penchant for doorstop-sized novels, how good a short story writer Stephen King actually is, particularly in his early work.

  7. Jehu says:

    My training is heavily as an engineer and only secondary in economics, but here’s where I’d say the fundamental difference lies.
    Nature doesn’t normally immediately try to game whatever system you design and build as an engineer. Yes, you might not understand its rules fully, but it’s not generally in the business of changing them, and at the macro level (i.e., above the subatomic level and slower than a relativistic level), it has a certain elegance and beauty to it that an engineer or even a scientist can feel in his gut when designing something to work within its framework. Not so human beings, those crooked timbers. Any system you set up will immediately attract lawyers and other gamers proportionate to the stakes involved to twist it far beyond its intended scope of operation. Most engineers, in my own experience, understand this, and yearn for technological solutions to problems when possible because, frankly, where appropriate, such solutions actually ARE possible. The absurdities come when economists mistakenly believe they’re engineers, or when engineers mistakenly believe they can engineer people systems.

  8. RS says:

    > that is, taking the results literally suggests that 2.25% of Northern voters shifted their votes to the Republicans out of a desire to protect their manufacturing interests by keeping the South in the Union.

    The metric looks pretty good, but my interpretation runs the opposite way. 2.25% ain’t jack, ergo this can be considered an insignificant, if not quite negligable cause of the war.

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