Friday, January 15, 2016

Systemic Ideological Segregation vs Systemic Racial Segregation

In an earlier post, I explained that while a white-looking person is less likely to be discriminated against for their skin-color, that doesn't prevent her from from being discriminated against for every other possible reason in the world.

In Megan McArdle's recent Bloomberg column, she demonstrated how impacting this can be by presenting a woman likely rejected for a doctorate program, at least in part, because she was home-schooled and went to a Christian college which the reviewers derided as an institution of “right-wing religious fundamentalists” that was “supported by the Koch brothers.” She opened this by telling the story as if the woman grew up in a high poverty neighborhood and went to a small, historically Black college. She framed the issue the way "white privilege" is typically outlined (remember she is actually talking about a white ideological minority in academia):
No, no one said “we don’t want blacks in this program”; they don’t have to. They just have to decide that traits common to black candidates, like growing up in a high-poverty neighborhood, or attending a historically black college, disqualify you from being “one of us.”
But the paragraph the that resonated strongest with me was her assessment of stereotypes:
[T]he problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue. (Lee Jussim has done a lot of work showing that stereotypes are often quite accurate.) The problem with stereotypes is that people use them instead of other, better information. Women are, on average, less likely to be interested in science, technology, engineering and math. That wouldn’t make it a good policy for a STEM program to discard the applications of all women, on the grounds that most women don’t want to be engineers.
 As I said in the earlier post:
[The bigot's] error is that ancestry is a useless proxy for weighing the human soul or guessing the path of a human life.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

On how price gouging benefits you

I often offer this video as an explanation for why "price gouging" should be allowed, especially after a natural disaster. One reason I like it is that it sets up the question under the most dire circumstances:
There's a natural disaster and a mother goes out to find a generator to run the refrigerator that keeps her daughter's insulin. She finds that the only generators available are now 3x the price.
The best argument the video makes for allowing prices to rise freely as scarcity increases is that it allows people who need the item the most to stake their claim for it over people who need it the least. When a limited resource is under-priced (relative to its scarcity), it is only natural that consumers will use up every little bit of it so it will not be available at all to more people who need it the most. As the video points out, settting a low price ceiling on resource when it is limited means that people don't have to be stingy in using the resource. Before that woman who needed a generator could find the seller, the odds are that he has sold his supply to other people who might have only thought a generator was "a good idea". Maybe one guy bought three generators "just in case".  More of this in a minute.

This question is related to a previous post I wrote, Price is No Obstacle. There I tried to demonstrate that price is not a problem to be overcome. Scarcity is the problem and price is only the quantification of the current scarcity. A law that outlaws selling items above a price ceiling cannot eliminate the scarcity that has caused the market price to be increased. A government policy has the ability to create scarcity, but it has no ability to legislate abundance. Only if there is a policy that is causing artificial scarcity (as I analogized before, artificially building a mountain between its citizens and the services they want) and that policy is removed can a government action be described as increasing abundance. In that case, the government action is Get Out Of The Way.

This is why centrally planned economies are subject to scarcities that do not exist in freer economies. Ironically, scarcity (such as the cost of the highest speed Internet) is typically the justification for more government involvement.

"If you put the federal government in charge of the Sahara Desert, in 5 years there'd be a shortage of sand."
~ Milton Friedman

Libertarian consumer reporter, John Stossel had a famous argument against price gouging laws on ABC News. Here he took on a real world example of exactly the situation in the first video above. There was a hurricane in the Gulf. The citizens of the town sent out an appeal for more generators.
John Shepperson was one of the "gougers" authorities arrested. Shepperson and his family live in Kentucky. They watched news reports about Katrina and learned that people desperately needed things. 

Shepperson thought he could help and make some money, too, so he bought 19 generators. He and his family then rented a U-Haul and drove 600 miles to an area of Mississippi that was left without power in the wake of the hurricane. 

He offered to sell his generators for twice what he had paid for them, and people were eager to buy. Police confiscated his generators, though, and Shepperson was jailed for four days for price-gouging. His generators are still in police custody. So did the public benefit?
 John Lott offered a argument he hardly invented against price gouging laws directed at hotels:
Stamping out "price-gouging" by hotels merely means that more of those fleeing the storm will be homeless. No one wants people to pay more for a hotel, but we all also want people to have some place to stay. As the price of hotel rooms rises, some may decide that they will share a room with others. Instead of a family getting one room for the kids and another for the parents, some will make do with having everyone in the same room. At high enough prices, friends or neighbors who can stay with each other will do so.

The Insidious Beauty of Capitalism

Capitalism is a loaded word. It means a lot of things to a lot of different people. In a practical sense, Capitalism is the freedom to do what you want with your own property, your own labor, your own intelligence. In it's purest form, you can do this without anyone (church, mayor, social justice warrior) looking over your shoulder to see if what you are doing is "fair".  In a free trade system, the only people deciding whether the deal is fair is the buyer and the seller. I'm going to leave aside the question of whether oversight is necessary in practice. I'm going only talk about a benefit that free trade produces in a society.

How many, for the sake of charity, would serve refreshing beverages to strangers -- not just for a weekend, but for scores of hours every week for years. Yet Starbucks has enticed people to do just that for the sake of ...what shall we call it? Greed? Ambition? A desire to thrive and to take part in the luxuries of modern life? Also for a flexible work schedule that allowed the freedom to go to auditions. An 18th century economist used the Biblical term "concupiscence" which is a term I like. Whatever it is, the physically and mentally hale panhandlers I encounter everyday are apparently immune to it. 

Free enterprise entices us to serve the needs and desires of our fellowman, including the majority of us who would never do it otherwise. To extend Don Henley's observation, there's just not enough love in the world to dependably have access, by charity alone, to the basic needs of survival.

As I said, I'm not going to address whether free enterprise needs oversight. But we should recognize that it does provide a public good -- it does, in its way, cause us to be better people. And it is inevitable that every control policy designed to soften its edges undercuts its effectiveness in making us better in that way.

To whatever degree we lessen the NEED to have a job and cow-tow to a boss or customer, we will lessen the greatest natural compulsion available to us to serve each other. If we had "free" housing, "free" cable, "free" Internet, and a budget for food, we would then be able to have our needs delivered and never interact with other people at all. It is Utopian to believe that an unsustainably large segment of us, if not most of us, would not end up taking that offer. If the government provided a minimum salary that was anything but miserably insufficient, a significant number of us would learn to live with that. The recent growth of Social Security Disability applications demonstrates that people will accept a very low standard of living if it can be had without a work schedule. This is the compelling power of "free" on the human psyche.

Yes, Capitalism has sharp edges. So does a saw. That is how they are effective.

Monday, January 11, 2016

What does the saying mean "The exception that proves the rule"?

How can an exception to a rule prove it?

The meaning of this saying is rooted in an important principle of Information Theory which says that "Knowledge only progresses when an experiment fails." Or inversely, "We don't learn anything from our successes." Here is an example:
Teacher: I'm going to give you a series of four numbers based on a pattern. You can give me three test series and I'll tell you if they match the pattern. Then you must tell me what the pattern is. Ready? "12, 14, 16, 18". Okay give me some test series, and I will tell you if they follow the actual pattern or not.

Student: 20, 22, 24, 26

Teacher: Correct.

Student: 32, 34, 36, 38.

Teacher: Correct.

Student 2, 4, 6, 8.

Teacher: Correct. What is the pattern?

Student: Consecutive even numbers.

Teacher: Incorrect. The pattern is this: "Each number must be larger than the previous one." 31, 45, 122, 123" would have also followed the pattern. Or even "1, 2, 3, 4."
This is a well-known example to demonstrate the seductiveness of Confirmation Bias. The student presupposed she knew the pattern and only tested to see if her presupposition was correct. Since all her tests pointed in one direction -- the direction she expected them to point -- she assumed her presumptions were right. Consequently, she learned nothing about the actual pattern. If she had inputted random numbers or if she had inputted numbers she was certain would fail the test, she would have learned at least something. She could have offered the original pattern in reverse order ("18, 16, 14, 12") and learned that the numbers needed to be in ascending order. There was actually very little value to her in offering number patterns that she fully expected to test positive.

And so you see that it was only by discovering patterns that DIDN'T follow the presumed rule (exceptions) that she could PROVE the rule to be correct.

This is a very important wider principle. In life, we only progress by failure. Naturally, it is our desire for our choices to always come up aces. But if they do, we will be the same person in 10 or 20 years that we are today. Why shouldn't we be when the status quo is so successful? We want our children to always succeed, but unless we believe they are fully realized, mature, ideal persons at birth, we should not attempt to ensure that outcome. It can be scary and even risky. But, generally speaking, it is a necessary risk.

In economics it is the same. People deride "Market Failures". But in fact, the value of an undirected, private market over centrally planned economies is not that it never fails. It is the opposite. The value is that it fails over and over, thousands of times simultaneously and often in very big, demonstrative ways. Government planned initiatives almost never fail even if they do not produce positive results. Or, at best they fail in slow motion, over a generation or two, and no one is ever held accountable for it. And that is why they are inefficient. Even if a government planned solution is PERFECT at the time it is designed and implemented, it will not be so in the near future and since it cannot fail, it cannot progress or adapt to change.
“Economic progress, in capitalist society, means turmoil.”
~ Joseph Schumpeter

Friday, January 8, 2016

"societally we can't seem to grasp the idea that even if a woman's body attracts attention, it's NOT an open invitation"

Tattooed women's experiences of nonconsensual touching, grabbing and commentary demonstrate how societally we can't seem...
Posted by Stuff Mom Never Told You on Tuesday, January 5, 2016
Woman posts on problems women with tattoos face with inappropriate attention, comments, and touching. Of course, women without tattoos face the same problems. But what drew my attention to her video was her claim that this has to do with a problem WE have SOCIETALLY.  I don't have a problem like that even though I consider myself part of society.

The term my daughters use for people that do have problems like that is "creepers". I like that term better than "creeps" because it identifies them by what they do in a specific situation rather than assuming to know what they "are". If a guy who "generally means well" is creeping, then he's a creeper. You don't need to know his backstory. I don't think any creepers will be turned around by this video. Some people might get new ideas for creeping from this video, though.

But back to the question of "we as a society". I think some people use the word "society" when they are actually referring to "the real world". Because if Society is bad in some way, it's on them (somebody) to fix it. But if it is the Real World that is discomfiting us then WE are the ones who need to adjust (either our behavior or our attitudes about what follows after we make our choices). We don't like to adjust.

Society is supposed to be nurturing and accommodating. The Real World is harsh, unforgiving, and doesn't care about our preferences, nor do we expect it to.