Your money is safe with Yglesias, trust him

August 12, 2012

Yglesias says you don’t need a safe haven investment, since the government has already created one for you.

Since Yglesias says it, it must be true. Even though I’m sure I’m wrong, I’m not convinced by Yglesias’ argument.

TIPS are yielding a measly two-ish percent. (After all, their measure of inflation excludes things like food and energy and housing. I would have naively thought that you’d want your "safe haven" investment to protect you against increases in the prices of the things you actually buy, but I’m not smart enough to figure these things out).

My bigger problem with this advice is that I think US government debt is in a bubble. It’s almost like someone who can print money is buying those things (don’t worry, it’s not a problem because they’re only buying old Treasuries, which don’t impact the price of new Treasuries, apparently – so much for basic economics).

Of course, if Treasuries really are in a bubble, people who think that the low interest rates on Treasuries mean that the US government should borrow more will end up looking really dumb.


The SWPL takeover of DC?

August 12, 2012

This white dude might be the next mayor of DC.

(The current beige half brother that’s mayor is having some problems).

The Washington Post notes:

But though Wells remains popular on Capitol Hill and in pockets of Northwest and Northeast Washington, he remains untested before a citywide electorate. Wells will have to convey what his self-described “progressive” views mean for the black middle-class voters who often decide elections in the District.

In normal English, white people really like Wells. However, in order to win in DC, you need some black votes and it’s not clear that blacks will vote for Wells because he’s white.

Wells has been remarkably effective as a Council member, even though he’s the only white dude on the Council. He basically follows the strategy that Sailer comments on here, of thinking of "regulations as tools." For example, are your sidewalks in crappy shape? If so, you don’t complain about the disrepair, nor do you mention that you want a livable, walkable city. Instead, you complain that handicapped people can’t get around on the sidewalks. Bam, the law requires new sidewalks.


Review of “Robots and Empire” by Isaac Asimov

August 12, 2012

This book is the last of the Robot Series. Lots of spoilers follow.

At the end of the The Robots of Dawn, we learn that one of the main robots (Giskard) is telepathic. His exact abilities are somewhat unclear. He can’t read thoughts, but he can read emotions and he can alter thoughts and memories.

In previous reviews, I’ve noted that Asimov’s books are mostly focused on robotic ethics. Also, in previous books, the universe was saved by the combination of man (Elijah Baley) and robot (Daneel, a humanoid robot and, later, Giskard).

In this book, the ethical dilemmas come to climax.

Baley is long dead, leaving Daneel and Giskard to save the universe on their own.

Daneel, who is increasingly able to reason like a man, figures out that the three laws of robotics are incomplete. It’s insufficient for robots to follow only the first law, which says, "A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm." Daneel instead reasons out the zeroth law, which he believes is a corollary of the first law. The zeroth law states, " A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm."

Since the zeroth law takes precedence over the first, it follows that a robot can harm a human if doing so will save humanity.

In the series so far, robots have generally been a force for good. With the introduction of the zeroth law and Giskard’s telepathic ability, the reader begins to get the sense that robots may not quite so unambiguously good after all.

Indeed, the book ends with Giskard saving the Earth from immediate destruction but choosing to allow a man to make the Earth uninhabitable over a slow and easily detectable process. Giskard does this because he believes doing so will be the best for humanity. We see, therefore, that even the simplest, most objective ethical framework imaginable ends up leading to some rather . . . uncomfortable results.

Before ending, I should note that the first and last books in this series were written more than 30 years apart. It’s pretty impressive that Asimov managed to make it all fit together and that he doesn’t seem to lose anything in his writing ability over such a long time.

On to the Galactic Empire Series.


Randoms

August 10, 2012

– Is Switzerland going to go back to the gold standard?

Derb on decay.

Crime in Europe and America. Apparently professor Cowen thinks incarceration is morally problematic even if it reduces crime. Wow.


Randoms

August 9, 2012

– Shockingly, the fact that it’s nearly impossible to make money from investments is making people poorer

– Wasting your twenties is a bad idea

Spandrell:

A big part of the success of the altright blogosphere is the synergy between HBD and the Game movement. Roissy owes his fame for joining Steve Sailer with Neil Strauss, and making his point with very good writing. The basic idea is that much of our behaviour is biologically determined, and if evolution made different populations distinct genetically, it also did that to sex.

– It’s too bad Mormons beliefs are so weird

– James replies to Roissy

– Unamused on The Camp of the Saints

– Samson on Eminem

– The Chinese Olympic performance is probably about as good as it’s going to get

– DC hearts Obama


Review of “Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China” by Ezra Vogel

August 7, 2012

I’ve said before that I think Deng Xiaoping is one of the most important political leaders of the 20th Century.

I believe that Deng’s post-Mao era leadership was masterful. I acknowledge that Deng had to do some things that were terrible. Nevertheless, Mao did not leave any non-terrible ways forward for his successor. I don’t think it would have been possible to be less terrible than Deng was – this is an amazing achievement.

Mao deserved a follower who destroyed his Party, his ideology and all of his legacy. The Chinese people, however, did not deserve the turmoil, death and destruction that would have inevitably accompanied such a revolution (they’d gotten it bad enough from the Japanese and the Communists in the 20th Century, they really didn’t deserve a post-Communist bloodbath). It’s tremendously unsatisfying that Mao still lays in state and that his picture is still everywhere.

However, for all intents and purposes, Deng effectively ended Communism in China. China is still ruled by one party. That party is nominally Communist (Rome nominally had a Senate for a long time, the US is nominally operating under the same Constitution today as it has since the end of the 18th Century) the best changes in forms of government are the ones that don’t appear to be changes in forms of government.

This book ably makes the case for this position. In brief, the case is that the problem China faced when Mao died was that Mao’s system sucked but was deeply entrenched and could not (likely) be replaced without significant violence, death and destruction. In other words, the question China faced was:

How much could the boundaries of freedom be expanded without risking that Chinese society would devolve into chaos, as it had before 1949 and during the Cultural Revolution?

All differences of opinion on Deng (and the current CP leadership) come down to differences of opinion on this particular question.

Before we dig into this book, I must note that the book is super boring. If someone asked you to write a 600 page research paper on Deng, this book is basically what you’d produce if you had a large budget and very good access to sources. It’s a recitation of facts, but it never manages to come alive as history should.

Deng’s relationship with the CP (I’m going to use CP for Communist Party throughout this post) was very strange. He always strongly supported the Party and continued to believe that a strong Party was essential. Nevertheless, he was purged three times with catastrophic results for him and his family.

During his second purge (in ’66) his oldest son was tortured and crippled by CP. Despite this, Mao never actually expelled Deng from the CP and Deng remained – at least sort of – loyal (the extent of this loyalty is a matter of debate).

Mao brought Deng back after Lin Biao died (’71). Deng was purged again in ’76, but during the intervening five years, Deng made many changes that foreshadowed changes he would make after Mao’s death.

Deng pushed some of these changes too far for Mao’s taste. Even this early, Deng seemed to be looking to undo as much of the Cultural Revolution as possible without offending Mao. After pushing too far, Deng was replaced in ’76 by Hua Guofeng.

Hua is an interesting character. He started many of the reforms that Deng is better known for, but Hua was a still too Maoist for Deng’s taste. Another interesting event that took place at the same time was some protests in Tiananmen Square which were largely pro-Deng.

Before dying, Mao brought Deng back and tried to position him in such a way that Deng would run foreign affairs and much of the government, but would not be the official head of the CP and would not be responsible for propaganda. Mao seemed to want to ensure that Deng would not depart from the Maoist legacy, but he also seemed to know that Deng would be the best choice to run the country.

Hua was officially in charge after Mao’s death, but Hua was not influential enough to retain control. Behind the scenes, there was a struggle between Deng and the Gang of Four. I can’t begin to get into all the political maneuverings going on behind the scenes – see here, for example. Suffice it to say that Deng must have an absolute master and he eventually emerged victorious. Two Whatevers lost to Practice is the Sole Criterion for Testing Truth. Deng took power slowly, bloodlessly, and almost without telling anyone. As Vogel puts it,

In the annals of world political history, it would be difficult to find another case where a person became top leader of a major nation without formal public recognition of the succession.

In this respect, Deng is basically the anti-Mao. Once it power, Deng continued (as he had always done) to put new policies into effect without totally destroying Maoism and, more importantly, the Party. Or, as I’d prefer to say, without plunging China into chaos.

Deng continued the policy of Four Modernizations. Of the four, he put specific emphasis on scientific research.

Deng worked at the margins in order to retain control and minimize instability. His goal seems to have been to dramatically change China’s actual form of government without changing the outward symbols and forms of the government. As Vogel puts it:

China after 1979 underwent a revolution far greater and longer lasting than the one under Mao began.

The result of the policies Deng created, continued and guided was incredible growth rates for three decades along with relative stability (the Tiananmen Square killings were certainly terrible and I’ll say more later, but if you believe that Deng effectively ended the Maoist form of government, the death of a couple hundred people in a country of a billion is an impressively small amount for such a consequential revolution).

The results cant be overstated. As Ron Unz recently put it:

During the three decades to 2010, China achieved perhaps the most rapid sustained rate of economic development in the history of the human species, with its real economy growing almost 40-fold between 1978 and 2010. In 1978, America’s economy was 15 times larger, but according to most international estimates, China is now set to surpass America’s total economic output within just another few years.

Furthermore, the vast majority of China’s newly created economic wealth has flowed to ordinary Chinese workers, who have moved from oxen and bicycles to the verge of automobiles in just a single generation. While median American incomes have been stagnant for almost forty years, those in China have nearly doubled every decade, with the real wages of workers outside the farm-sector rising about 150 percent over the last ten years alone. The Chinese of 1980 were desperately poor compared to Pakistanis, Nigerians, or Kenyans; but today, they are several times wealthier, representing more than a tenfold shift in relative income. . . .

A World Bank report recently highlighted the huge drop in global poverty rates from 1980 to 2008, but critics noted that over 100 percent of that decline came from China alone: the number of Chinese living in dire poverty fell by a remarkable 662 million, while the impoverished population in the rest of the world actually rose by 13 million. . . .

China’s economic progress is especially impressive when matched against historical parallels. Between 1870 and 1900, America enjoyed unprecedented industrial expansion, such that even Karl Marx and his followers began to doubt that a Communist revolution would be necessary or even possible in a country whose people were achieving such widely shared prosperity through capitalistic expansion. During those 30 years America’s real per capita income grew by 100 percent. But over the last 30 years, real per capita income in China has grown by more than 1,300 percent.

(You should really pause here and read all of Unz’s piece if you haven’t already done so).

Now let’s turn to Tiananmen. Deng gave lots of power to Hu Yaobang. The student protests in Tiananmen were, in part, in support of Hu’s reforms. Some of the most difficult reforms of the era dealt with lifting prices controls, which led to lots of inflation and political instability that always follows from inflation.

The Tiananmen demonstrations were led by students. It’s hard to say what they wanted. They didn’t like inflation and they seemed vaguely to want democracy sort of according to Wikipedia.

Here, I must confess, that when I hear of student protesters who have no idea what sort of political system they want (or how to actually attain political power) demanding subsidized goods I am disinclined to think favorably of them. My mind seems to habitually and subconsciously substitute the phrase “potential mass-murders” for “student protesters.” Perhaps, I’ve read too much history.

Vogel makes a few interesting points on the demonstrations, beyond noting that the students “knew little about democracy and freedom and had little idea about how to achieve such goals.” He adds that after a few days, the world press showed up and the English speaking students moved to the front. He also notes that the demonstrations started to die down (in numbers, at least) after May 30 (the violence occurred on June 4th).

It’s also relevant to consider Deng’s mindset. He kept a careful eye on the Soviet experience. The following quotes sum up the lessons Deng learned:

we will not do to Chairman Mao what Khrushchev did to Stalin.

. . .

“My father,” Deng’s younger son, Deng Zhifang, told an American acquaintance, “thinks Gorbachev is an idiot.”

Deng is clearly responsible for the deaths that followed the in Tiananmen. It should also be noted that these are not the only deaths that Deng is responsible for. Nevertheless, Deng seems always to have acted as if he believed that most important thing was a peaceful, orderly China that was able to continue reforms which would make everyone more wealthy.

That’s largely what happened in China. Perhaps Deng could have pushed a bit faster, but given the number of times he was purged (and almost expelled from the Party), it’s hard to argue that he could pushed much further. The Tiananmen protests were largely a response to reform (particularly the removal of price controls, which is bound to be painful). Again, perhaps Deng could have compromised somehow with the student protesters. My own reading of history suggests that compromising with student protesters is a good way to get a lot of people killed. It’s impossible to know what would have happened had Deng not ordered troops into Tiananmen. It’s not hard, however, to imagine a scenario in which things would have happened that would have dwarfed the horror of what actually happened.


Mangan

August 3, 2012

A few alt-righters have been wondering where Mangan is. I’m not sure what’s up with his main site, but he’s been blogging a bunch here.


Review of “The Robots of Dawn” by Isaac Asimov

August 3, 2012

One of the earlier books in this series was set on an over-crowded, anti-robot Earth. The other was set in an under-crowded, overly-robot-dependent “Spacer” world, called Solaria. The humans that colonized new planets are quite different than the humans that remained on Earth.

This book is set on the planet Aurora, which seems to strike the happy medium between Earth and Solaria.

The conflict in this book arises because new planets need to be settled. The “Spacers” (humans that moved off Earth many generations ago) are more technologically advanced than Earthmen. However, settling new planets is difficult and uncomfortable and the Spacers live a comfortable luxurious life. The Spacers also have a low population compared to Earth’s much larger population. These issues create two competing camps.

The first thinks new planets should be settled by robots who will prepare the planets for future Spacer colonization. The second camp thinks planets should be settled by Earthmen. For various reasons that aren’t completely believable, the first camp requires human-shaped robots to do the initial colonizing. Such robots are only made by Dr Fastolfe, who is a firm supporter of the second camp. As such, Fastolfe refuses to release the secret of creating human-form robots and such is the conflict that creates this story.

It’s another great detective story (which is particularly impressive since 25 years passed between this book and the previous one in this series). The ending is quite good as well.

Nevertheless, it’s the ethical issues that are most interesting. We begin to see a major weakness in the laws of robotics. The laws would seem to prevent a robot from harming a human even if harming said human would help millions more. The robots in the stories are also becoming much more advanced and interesting.

More after the next book.


Randoms

August 3, 2012

– Robin Hanson thinks world government is inevitable. I think he’s right, unless progressivism destroys itself first.

– Isegoria: Asia first and color may be more than skin deep:

They found that darker-colored individuals had higher levels of aggression and sexuality than lighter colored individuals

Don’t worry though, they’re talking about animals.

– A couple Albert Jay Nock quotes. Being opposed to mass literacy is delightfully reactionary.

Charlton on Shakespeare

– Dalrymple on the opening ceremony (HT: Chuck)

The left singularity: “Increased repression brings increased leftism, increased leftism brings increased repression, in an ever tighter circle that turns ever faster.”


Diversity is strength

August 3, 2012

It’s pretty dumb to write about something that Steve Sailer and Chuck have already written about. But, I can’t resist adding a few thoughts about Tyler Cowen’s views on the Olympics.

If I had to name something for which diversity was indeed a strength, I’d probably say the Olympics. Perhaps that’s why it’s so hyped.

It’s impossible not to notice certain politically incorrect things while you watch the olympics. With a few exceptions, for example, good swimmers come from a few countries or have surnames indicating that their ancestors once came from those countries. The same thing is true for runners (though the countries are very different). Given how many swimming and running medals are given out, I suspect that medal counts won’t shift as much as people suggest.

For similar reasons, I’ll be surprised if Africa starts winning lots more medals. Many African countries do well in running events, but as their continent gets less diverse, they may even win fewer medals.

For example, most of Zimbabwe’s medals are in swimming. And almost all were won by this woman. Let’s just say vaguely that it’s unlikely that Zimbabwe will find another swimming star anytime soon.

South Africa has many more medals, but a brief perusal of the surnames of it’s medal winners coupled with some knowledge of current events in South Africa, would seem to suggest that South Africa is about to embark on a path of winning fewer (not more) medals.

Finally, I’ll close with a prediction that the Chinese will increase their domination of the weird individual sports that no one cares about.