David L. Martin

in praise of science and technology

Archive for the month “April, 2021”

The California Experiment

It has been said that California is a prelude to America. In a previous post (here), I discussed an article by Peter Leyden and Ruy Teixeira entitled “California is the Future.” They pointed out that national trends seem to follow California trends by about 15 years. In 1966, Ronald Reagan was elected governor of California, ushering in a conservative wave in California politics. About 15 years later he was elected President, ushering in a conservative wave in national politics. In the early 1990’s, a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment hit California. About 15 years later, the Tea Party hit national politics. In 2003, California elected a tough-talking celebrity for governor. In 2016, America elected a tough-talking celebrity for President.

California State Assembly Composition.svg

By 2012, the Democratic party had achieved a supermajority in the California legislature, which it has held ever since. The state hasn’t had a Republican governor for 10 years and seems unlikely to have one in the near future. What has been the result of a decade of Democratic dominance in California?

Palm Springs Luxury Vacation Rentals | Natural Retreats

I have been to California several times. It is a land of extreme contrasts. The big coastal cities are packed full of a diverse collection of people. 57% of Californians, and 1 OF EVERY 14 AMERICANS, live in one of these urban areas. Suburban sprawl is mind-boggling in places like Temecula and San Jose. On the other hand, there is the Central Valley. Most people do not think of California as a farming state. But the Central Valley covers about 18,000 square miles, more than a third the area of my home state of Louisiana. More than half of all the country’s fruits, nuts, and vegetables are grown there, including 60% of the WORLD’s almond supply.

7 must-see Bureau of Land Management destinations in California | California  Sun

Yet the bulk of California consists of mile upon mile of deserts, chaparral-covered hills, and forested mountains. Much of this is public land – national parks, national forests, state parks, wildlife refuges. Death Valley National Park alone covers almost 5000 square miles, 4 times the area of Rhode Island. California has 20 national forests, encompassing more than half of all of the forested land in the state, and covering almost 30,000 square miles, about the area of South Carolina.

Population Changes: Goin' Out West - California State Association of  Counties

It has been noted that net migration in California is now negative. More people are leaving the state than immigrating. This is perfectly true. From 2010 to 2019, about 4.9 million people immigrated into California. But during the same period, about 6.2 million people left California, giving us a net migration of about -1.3 million. However, it should be noted that the vast majority of counties in the state still saw population increase due to births. Areas that saw population decline were primarily rural counties (generally overwhelmingly white) in the northeastern part of the state.

White Population of California [1418 x 1384] : MapPorn

With California effectively controlled by the Democratic party for a decade, what has been the result? Without any effective Republican resistance, is California in essence now a socialist state, where beef is banned and Christianity is outlawed? Are reparations for slavery in full swing? Has the confiscation of firearms commenced?

Ted Cruz Says He Flew Family To Mexico Because He Wanted 'To Be A Good Dad'

The national media, particularly the political media, tends to focus on culture war issues, such as recent attempts to change the names of schools in San Francisco. Ted Cruz, never shy about jumping into the culture wars, exclaimed that “NONE are woke enough for the America-hating radical Left. This will never stop, until Americans say ‘ENOUGH!!’ and call it out for the ignorant nonsense that it is.” As it turns out, Americans who said enough included the city’s own Democratic mayor, who called the effort offensive and a distraction. And therein lies the story of California in a nutshell.

Arnold Schwarzenegger says Trump is a 'failed leader' and urges unity after  Capitol siege - CNNPolitics

The people of California are pragmatic. After all, 1 out of every 8 Americans lives there. They will not suffer ideology, any ideology, for long that does not deliver real results. Real results include economic prosperity, decent housing, decent educational opportunities, a decent health care system, and a livable environment. Former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger started his governorship with a lot of bluster and right-wing talking points, calling Democratic legislators “girlie men.” He began to impose deep budget cuts and asked the California Attorney General to intervene directly to stop San Francisco from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Yet only days into his second term, he called for universal health insurance and for new bonds to fund schools and other infrastructure. In his second term he advocated for responses to climate change and for stem cell research. He signed a bill that recognized the rights of same-sex couples. In recent years he has advocated for eating less meat and has described Donald Trump, who holds an approval rating of 82% among Republicans, as a failed leader.

July Cattle Numbers in Feedlots 11% Higher Than 2019 – PNW AG Network

It hardly needs to be said that California does not have a universal health care system. California has a private health insurance system just like any other state. A decade of Democratic rule has not changed that. Nor has it resulted in state-run banks, state-run oil companies, or state-run farms. Beef has not been banned, in fact California produces 9% of the nation’s beef. I have personally seen, and smelled, the enormous feed lots that house beef cattle in California. Christianity has not been outlawed, California has more megachurches than any other state.

Facebook to Franklin Graham: Sorry about temporary ban for HB2 post

The actual policies that conservatives get up in arms over are things like comprehensive sex education in public schools, including lessons on LGBTQ sexuality. Such things lead to huge public battles and lots of media coverage. Conservatives in California, as in America as a whole, are still fighting their already-lost battle over same-sex marriage. Such issues excite the general public for a while, but in California the general public eventually loses patience with ideology.

The best and worst states for health care in 2020 | MDedge Internal Medicine

The big picture for California is this. Sales, excise, and gross receipts taxes comprise 21% of state and local tax revenue in California. The state ranks 34th in its reliance on these. Low-income taxpayers pay an effective tax rate of 10.5%, while high-income taxpayers pay 12.4%. In this respect California is one of the most progressive states for taxes. (For comparison, in Texas low-income taxpayers pay an effective rate of 13.0%, while high-income taxpayers pay only 3.1%.) On poverty California is about in the middle of the states, ranking 26th with a rate of 11.8%. It ranks 12th in its percentage of adults over 25 with Bachelor’s degrees. On WalletHub’s rankings of health care systems it ranks 33rd. It ranks a bit better on health outcomes at 26th (on life expectancy California ranks 5th), but it ranks poorly on cost at 42nd. On WalletHub’s “greenist states” rankings it is 5th. Although it ranks 3rd on eco-friendly behaviors and climate change measures, it ranks a rather dismal 28th on actual environmental quality. On GDP per capita it ranks 9th. On median household income it ranks 12th. On the New Economy Index, a measure of innovation, it ranks 4th. On the American Human Development Index it ranks 12th.

15 Amazing Things to Do in Sequoia National Park + Kings Canyon

As you can see, California is neither a socioeconomic paradise nor a hellhole. North Dakota and Iowa, which are hardly dominated by Democrats, get much higher rankings on health care. It does rank highly on progressive taxation and innovation, and fairly well on education, but hardly outstanding in its poverty rate or its health care system. Ideologues do not rule California, nor are they likely to in the future. They do tend to rule media coverage, which relishes political theater and distracts from the realities of governing.

All Inequalities are Not Equal

In a previous post (here), I mentioned that poorer countries tend to have greater internal economic inequality, the opposite of what conservative ideology would suggest. Wealthy countries tend to have transparent governments that operate for the benefit of the masses of people. Poor countries tend to have corrupt governments that operate for their own benefit and that of their wealthy friends.

Opinion: Amazon doesn't need Jeff Bezos as CEO to be Amazon - MarketWatch

On the political left, there seems to be a lot of concern about a few people who are fabulously wealthy. Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos for example. Frankly, I don’t really care. Inequality per se is not an issue. If 99% of American households took in $100,000/year, and 1% took in $1 billion/year, that would be some hellacious inequality. If 99% took in $1000/year, and 1% took in $2000/year, that’s much better, right? As long as every single household is dirt poor, we’re good? I don’t think so.

The problem is not that a few people are fabulously wealthy. The issue is whether we have a healthy, vigorous middle class. Can people afford decent homes, a decent education, decent health care? Are they warm in the winter and cool in the summer? Do they have reasonable working hours and good retirement benefits?

The Boom Towns and Ghost Towns of the New Economy - The Atlantic

Economic growth in America is very much concentrated in urban areas. These also tend to have high income inequality compared to rural areas. But again, if large numbers of people can afford the basics, who cares? Perhaps we should be looking at something else besides inequality. How about poverty rates?

It turns out that poverty rates are relatively high in many rural states, but they are also relatively low in some. New Hampshire, for example, is a rural state. It has the nation’s lowest poverty rate, 7.3%. Mississippi is also a rural state. It has the highest poverty rate, 19.6%. Some urbanized states do have pretty low poverty rates. Massachusetts, for example, has the 8th lowest rate, 9.4%. Texas, however, is an urbanized state, yet has the 10th highest rate, 13.6%. As it turns out, poverty rates tend to be high in the South. 9 of the top 10 states on poverty rate are in the South. Poverty rates tend to be low in the Northeast and Midwest. If we look at poverty rates by county, we get this:


Notice that poverty rates tend to be low on the West Coast, even though inequality is often quite high in urban areas:

In other words, it’s tough to be poor in San Francisco or Seattle. But a much smaller proportion of the population IS poor, compared to the Delta area of Mississippi or the Black Belt in Alabama. Inequality in Arkansas or South Carolina is a very different thing from inequality in California or New York.

Farmcrowdy raises $1M round to bring Nigerian farmers online and to market  | TechCrunch

Similarly, income inequality in Canada is a very different thing from income inequality in Nigeria. The Gini coefficients of the 2 countries are similar (33.8 for Canada, 35.1 for Nigeria). But the median household income in Canada is $41,280, compared to Nigeria’s $2667. 92 PERCENT of the population of Nigeria lives on the equivalent of less than $5.50/day, compared to 0.7% in Canada.

As I said, the problem is not inequality per se. The problem is CORRUPTION and OPPRESSION. In many poor countries, the masses of people accept government corruption. The government often feeds ethnic or religious hatreds and favors a few wealthy friends. The masses of people have seen this all of their lives and assume this is the way it has to be. In particular, women are often subjugated and deprived of education.

Global Gender Gap Report - Wikipedia

In a previous post (here), I discussed the geography of gender inequality. In their latest report on this, the World Economic Forum once again rated Iceland as number 1 on the world on gender equality, out of 156 countries. 4 of the 5 Scandinavian countries were in the top 5. Finland, Iceland, and Norway currently have female prime ministers. America ranked 30th, behind 18 European countries. Afghanistan was dead last. 7 of the bottom 10 countries were in the Middle East. In Yemen, for example, the literacy rate for women is only 35%. The labor force participation rate for women is 6.3%. There are virtually no women in positions of power. Yemen’s GDP per capita is $1924. Iceland’s is $58,151.

The Economic Status of Women in the States - IWPR 2020

Within America, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research produces an economic Status of Women Index for each state. In their last report, no state received a grade of A, but 12 states received B’s or B+’s. None of them were in the South, and many were urbanized. 6 states received D-‘s or F’s. 5 of them were in the South. In California, for example (often cited as a state with an inequality problem), women on average make 12% less than men. In my home state of Louisiana, women on average make 31 PERCENT less than men.

To some extent these differences are due to the fact that some states have a higher percentage of women in the workforce than others. But this is by no means the only factor. Even if we look solely at women and men who are employed full time, large differences remain. In Massachusetts, women employed full-time make 90% of what men make on average. In Mississippi, women employed full-time make only 75% of what men make. Of the top 10 states in gender parity here, 5 are in the Northeast. Of the bottom 10 states, 4 are in the South. Of the top 10 states on the percentage of adult women above the poverty line, 5 are in the Northeast. Of the bottom 10 states, 6 are in the South. In Arkansas, only 23% of women over the age of 25 have Bachelor’s degrees. In Massachusetts that figure is 43%.

If we plot the Status of Women score versus Measure of America’s American Human Development Index by state, we get this rather remarkable result:

There is a straightforward, strong positive correlation between the status of women by state and the Human Development Index. The HDI takes into account such things as life expectancy, educational attainment, and income. As the status of women improves, well-being improves for everyone. The blue dots are states in the Northeast. The red dots are states in the South.

Finland's New Government Is Young And Led By Women—Here's What The Country  Does To Promote Diversity

It stands to reason that in countries in which half the population is poor and oppressed, improving the status of that half of the population will improve average well-being. But there’s more to it than that. Over and over it has been shown that improving the status of women improves well-being for men as well. It leads to greater overall prosperity, better health, and greater freedom. Again, it doesn’t really matter whether a few people are fabulously wealthy. What matters is whether we have a healthy, vigorous middle class, with many women able to control their own destinies and contribute their talents to building a prosperous, free society.

Is Usandthemism Unavoidable?

In virtually every corner of the planet earth, one can find ethnic and religious conflict. In many poor countries, tribal hatreds are the norm. People seem to find a way to segregate, even when they share a great many things in common. Irish Catholics and Protestants murdered each other for decades, and tension remains to this day. In Rwanda, Tutsis and Hutus have been at each other for many years, culminating in the Rwandan genocide of the early 1990’s. In eastern Europe, Croatians murdered large numbers of Serbs in the early 20th century. Serbs returned the favor in the late 20th century. In much of the Middle East, the most prominent enemies of Muslims are other Muslims. Saudi Arabia, a Sunni-controlled country, is constantly at odds with Iran, a Shia-controlled country.

Founding Fathers of the United States - Wikipedia

Democracy is supposed to bring the principles of justice, equality, and tolerance into the building of a nation. But America, the world’s first democracy, was hardly a melting pot in its infancy. It was a country founded by white Anglo-Saxon Protestants, largely for white Anglo-Saxon Protestants and their descendants. Other groups were marginalized and brutalized. Over time there has been broader enfranchisement, more tolerance, and less Eurocentrism. But it must be noted that America has always been a majority white country – in fact an OVERWHELMINGLY white country. Until now.

10 demographic trends that are shaping the U.S. and the world | Pew  Research Center

In Europe, most countries are fairly homogeneous. There is usually an official language, and immigrants are expected to assimilate into the local culture. But the fact is, in the past most European countries received immigrants from other parts of Europe, and their white populations grew. Today many of these countries are seeing declines in their white populations, even as immigration from outside of Europe surges.

It’s relatively easy for a numerically dominant ethnicity to be tolerant of minorities in a democracy. The dominant ethnicity has the votes and almost never has to concern itself with real power sharing. It has begun to dawn on white America that this is changing, which leads to some interesting contrasts. On the one hand there is a great deal of anti-immigrant sentiment in the white population of America. The previous moron-in-chief famously said that “Our country is full.” On the other hand there is increasing alarm in many conservative circles that the nation is not producing enough children. Which is it? Is the country full, or is it depleted? It’s not hard to find the resolution of this contradiction. The usually unspoken message is that WHITE America is depleted.

Teaching the notion of anti-Irish sentiment to a group of 17-year-olds at  8am on a Wednesday morning – An Ruball Rua

In the past, white supremacy and Protestant nationalism were overt. Venom was directed at Irish Catholic and Chinese immigrants in the 19th century. In the late 19th and early 20th century it was directed at Italian immigrants, also largely Catholic. In the late 20th century it was focused on Mexicans, again largely Catholic. It is no accident that to this day, white American Protestants, particularly evangelicals, remain the most anti-immigrant religious group in America, much more so than American Catholics. It is also worth noting the black American Protestants are even more accepting of immigrants than Catholics are.

What history reveals about surges in anti-Semitism and anti-immigrant  sentiments | PBS NewsHour

Since overt white supremacy has been marginalized for years, anti-immigrant language is usually coded, with phrases like “threats to ‘our’ sovereignty” and “defense of ‘our’ values.” America is now facing something it has never before faced. Will it become a genuinely multicultural democracy? And even if it does, will its people find some other way to fragment into tribes?

I think it’s inevitable that tribalism will fade. Many people underestimate the depth of religious and ethnic intolerance that once prevailed in America. Only a few generations ago it was commonplace for parents to oppose interfaith marriages. And interracial couples were usually met with hostile stares. Such intolerance still exists, of course. But it has been very much marginalized, and is highly unlikely to return. The same process is underway as regards homosexuality. Much of the resistance to change is coming from older white Americans. When they are gone, who is going to carry the banner of intolerance? Within 20 years, most of the country under the age of 30 will be non-white. Already young America is showing acceptance of diversity, even impatience with those who cling to intolerance.

Americans' views of immigrants marked by widening partisan, generational  divides | Pew Research Center

This of course does not mean that identity politics will disappear soon. On the contrary, many of those in marginalized groups now seem to have an attitude that says, “It’s payback time.” “Cancel culture,” although greatly exaggerated by conservatives, is a genuine phenomenon. Old wounds do not heal overnight. But in the end such approaches are self-defeating, and the simple fact is that the vast majority of those who advocate for social justice want to see genuine reconciliation and healing, not continued division. There is a big difference between SHARED power and SUPREMACY. In a way, this has been the problem all along. There are many who simply don’t believe in equality. They don’t believe it has ever existed nor can it. They believe in supremacy. If one person or group is doing well, another must be doing poorly. White supremacists have always justified their actions as defense, arguing that non-white enfranchisement and influence amounts to non-white supremacy and the destruction of the white race. This was precisely Hitler’s argument.

Sjögren's in Children | Sjögren's Foundation

The question remains, which has been debated for many years, whether a genuine “melting pot” is desirable, or whether ethnic and religious groups should maintain their distinctiveness. My guess is that over time the differences will become less prominent than the commonalities. There will likely be ethnic and religious groupings for many years to come. Men and women remain quite distinct. Yet they are able to live together, work together, and share power despite their differences. The differences can still be respected while the common humanity brings unity. When human relationships are about power, toxicity is the result. People feel the need to have group solidarity because they are being threatened and marginalized. When supremacy is replaced by power-sharing and respect for difference, I think we will find that unity will tend to be emphasized. Each of us is a unique individual. That does not stop us from appreciating and celebrating our common humanity.

The Difference Between Science and Ideology

The conservative Heritage Foundation, which to a great extent is responsible for giving us 40 years of Reaganomics, publishes an Economic Freedom Index by country. This index takes into account many factors, which fit into 4 broad categories: the rule of law, size of government, regulatory efficiency, and ease of trade. Of course, being conservative, these folks consider higher taxes and more government spending to reflect poorer economic freedom.

The Heritage Foundation provides some nice graphics, which quickly illustrate how each country scores on the factors that go into the EFI. For example, here is a portion of their graphic on tax burden, focused on Europe and North America:

As you can see, America, with its relatively low taxes, does well on this. Many European countries, including Norway and Sweden, do poorly. Russia and most eastern European countries actually do quite well. How about government spending? Here we go:

Again, many European countries, including all of the Scandinavian countries, do poorly, Canada too. Government spending is a big chunk of their economies. America, with its lower government spending, does better. Many African countries do better still.

Now since these are things that are strongly emphasized by conservatives, you might conclude that many European countries, including the Scandinavian countries, would do poorly on the EFI. Let’s see:

Actually many European countries, including all of the Scandinavian countries, do quite well. Notice that many African countries, which do very well on low taxes and low government spending, do quite poorly on the EFI. Russia and much of eastern Europe also scores somewhat poorly.

Why the difference? Well, there’s another factor we can look at, trade freedom:

Many African countries do poorly on trade freedom. European countries do much better, North American countries too. Russia and the eastern European countries do pretty well. Trade freedom does seem to contribute positively to the overall EFI, although Russia and eastern European seem to do rather well on trade freedom, and not so well on the overall EFI.

There’s 1 other big factor that we should look at. Government integrity. Does the country have transparent government, operating for the masses of people? Or does it have corrupt government, operating for a few? Let’s see:

Northern and western Europe, along with Canada, rates very highly on this. Russia and much of eastern Europe does very poorly, as well as much of Africa.

Now notice something. This last map is pretty similar to the third one above, showing the overall EFI. And it is almost a mirror image of the first map, showing tax burdens by country. The Heritage Foundation considers higher taxes to be a negative for economic freedom. Are they? If we plot their tax burden rating by country versus the EFI, we get this:

Note that a country with a higher rating here has LOWER taxes. As expected, their tax burden rating is slightly NEGATIVELY correlated with their own EFI. So why use this factor at all? Lower taxes contribute nothing positive to a country’s EFI, if anything they just bring it down. If we plot the tax burden rating (again, less tax gives a higher rating) against GDP per capita we get this:

Wealthier countries do not tend to have lower taxes. If anything the opposite is true. Most poor countries get a rating above 60, many of them above 80. This doesn’t seem to translate into wealth.

The same kind of relationship exists between government spending and the EFI. The Heritage Foundation considers high government spending to be a negative. So many European countries get poor ratings. But the problem is that wealthier countries tend to have high government spending. Heritage’s government spending rating is slightly negatively correlated with their own EFI:

As with the tax burden, lower levels of government spending are negatively correlated with GDP per capita:

Most countries with a government spending rating above 80 are poor, with per capita GDP’s of less than $20,000. 14 of the 20 countries with ratings below 40 have per capita GDP’s above $20,000.

What about trade freedom? That seems to have a positive relationship with the EFI. If we plot trade freedom versus EFI, we get this:

Yes indeed, trade freedom has a pretty good positive correlation with the EFI. And not surprisingly, trade freedom is positively correlated with GDP per capita:

There’s a lot of variation, though, among the most freely-trading countries. Mexico’s free trade rating (81.6) is slightly higher than America’s (80.4). Yet America’s per capita GDP is $65,118, more than 3 times that of Mexico ($20,411). Clearly, free trade alone doesn’t cut it as a generator of wealth.

The big factor that really drives the EFI is government integrity. Transparent governments that operate for the benefit of masses of people tend to occur in wealthy, free countries. Corrupt governments that operate for a few tend to occur in poor, oppressive countries. Government integrity has a strong positive correlation with the EFI:

It also has a strong positive correlation with GDP per capita:

We would have been better off simply ignoring taxation and government spending, and focusing on trade freedom and government integrity. But if we did that, we couldn’t help but notice that countries with very high government integrity ratings, such as Finland and New Zealand, also tend to have high EFI’s. They also often have high levels of taxation and government spending.

The Heritage Foundation deserves credit for honestly evaluating each of the factors that go into their EFI. But their Economic Freedom Index is calculated simply by averaging the factors within each of the 4 major groupings and then adding up those averages. If a scientist submitted a report like theirs, they would be laughed out of their field. Considering LOW taxes and LOW government spending to be drivers of economic freedom is absurd. Their own data say so.

Of course, it could be argued that freedom and prosperity are 2 different things. A country might be very prosperous but unfree. If I choose to consider high taxes and high government spending to be negatives for freedom, even if they are positively correlated with wealth, I am entitled to. After all, it could be argued that a dictator can make the trains run on time. Democracy is messy and inefficient compared to dictatorship. But freedom is still superior to oppression.

The libertarian Cato Institute also produces an Economic Freedom Index. Many of the same factors that Heritage considers go into their index – size of government, integrity of the legal system, trade freedom. And indeed, if we plot the 2 indices against one another, we see that they are pretty nicely correlated:

But the Cato Institute also generates a Human Freedom Index. This takes into account all of the factors above, plus such things as security and safety, freedom of movement, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and the rule of law. If we plot the Heritage Foundation’s Economic Freedom Index against the Cato Institute’s Human Freedom Index, we get this:

Again there is a clear correlation, but there is a lot more spread here. So let’s see how the Heritage Foundation’s factors that we looked at above relate to Cato’s Human Freedom Index. Let’s start with the tax burden rating:

We see the same pattern that we saw above with Heritage’s own Economic Freedom Index. Lower taxes do not yield greater freedom. If anything it’s the opposite. Let’s look at government spending:

The same pattern. Less government spending does not translate into a freer society. If anything it’s the opposite. How about trade freedom? Let’s see:

Trade freedom is positively correlated with human freedom, just as it was with Heritage’s own EFI. Finally, let’s look at government integrity:

This is the strongest correlation of all. Countries with transparent governments tend to be freer. Not a single country with a rating above 80 on government integrity has a Human Freedom Index of less than 8. Not a single country with a rating below 40 on government integrity has an HFI above 8. As we have seen above, countries that rate highly on government integrity also tend to be more prosperous. Lower taxes and lower government spending are irrelevant. If anything, freer, wealthier countries tend to have somewhat higher taxes and more government spending.

Hendrik Hertzberg quote: A political ideology is a very handy thing to  have...

Science is very, very pragmatic. It looks at patterns and tries to make predictions. Ideology is almost the opposite. It starts with preconceived notions and tries to twist and contort the data to agree. The result is a lot of wasted time and effort, years, even decades of waste. I have spent most of my adult life watching trickle-down economics fail. I wonder if I’ll live to see it overthrown.

Education, Education, Education

The names Walter Lippmann and Edward Bernays are not exactly household names in America. But they should be. No one in America should be allowed to graduate from high school without a familiarity with Edward Bernays, the father of modern public relations. Among other things, Bernays is credited with increasing the popularity of tobacco smoking among women in the early 20th century. Many propaganda techniques that we take for granted today were introduced by Bernays.

Edward Bernays – Principles of Propaganda

One of Bernays’ inspirations was a book by Walter Lippman published in 1922 entitled Public Opinion. In his book Lippman used the phrase “manufacture of consent.” He suggested that the masses of people are incapable of making sound decisions concerning the public interest. Public consent had to be “manufactured” by a professional class of people who have the knowledge and intelligence to do so. He suggested that traditional notions of democracy, in which ordinary people using their own skills would make sound decisions, had become obsolete. Years later, in 1947, Bernays himself published an article entitled “The Engineering of Consent.” Bernays considered the engineering of public opinion to be essential to a democracy, because in his view, the masses of people were untrustworthy. They were vulnerable to herd mentality and subconscious desires, and would ultimately descend into chaos if not properly manipulated. He believed that they would inevitably be successfully manipulated by SOMEONE. The only question was whether they would be manipulated by evil people or “good” people. In his words, “Intelligent men must realize that propaganda is the modern instrument by which they can fight for productive ends and help to bring order out of chaos.”

United Fruit Company Photograph Collection - Photography Collections -  Historical Collections - Harvard Business School

I presume that Bernays did not consider himself to be one of the “evil” people that would manipulate the public against their own interests. So it is worth noting that he used his “goodness” to help the CIA overthrow the democratically elected government of Guatemala in 1954. After the coup, there was widespread corruption. In 1960 a full-blown civil war began which lasted more than 30 YEARS, with many massacres. To this day Guatemala remains a poor country with major corruption problems. One has to wonder, then, about those who portray themselves as the “good” people who must propagandize the masses, lest they fall prey to the “evil” people.

20 Edward Bernays ideas | edward bernays, edward, propaganda

Bernays’ views about the relationship between public relations and education are particularly interesting: “The average American adult has only 6 years of schooling behind him. With pressing crises and decisions to be faced, a leader frequently cannot wait for the people to arrive at even a general understanding.” A bit later he offers this: “The engineering of consent often does supplement the educational process. If higher general educational standards were to prevail in this country and the general level of public knowledge and understanding were raised as a result, this approach would still retain its value.” In other words, no matter how well educated the public is, they cannot be trusted. Yet somehow, a few elites like himself CAN be trusted to operate the levers of power.

Amazon.com: The Authoritarian Dynamic (Cambridge Studies in Public Opinion  and Political Psychology) (9780521534789): Stenner, Karen: Books

This kind of “Oh, but I didn’t mean ME” attitude is seen over and over in elites who express distrust of the public. Somehow they themselves are immune to the prejudices, fallacies, and herd mentality of the masses of people. How so? Did you take some sort of magic elitist pill that makes you immune? Or was it simply education, the acquisition of knowledge, and particularly the skills of critical thinking? Karen Stenner, one of the foremost authorities on authoritarianism, advocates for a kind of “stealth democracy,” in which we de-emphasize each other’s differences, because, in her mind, there are clearly large numbers of people who simply refuse to accept a multi-religious, multi-ethnic society. Not her, of course.

What makes her immune? What makes her trustworthy? Hmmmm…. Stenner has a Ph.D. in political science and has done research at institutions such as Duke and Princeton. Could her educational background have something to do with it?


Now of course a college degree, even an advanced degree, is no guarantee of a tolerant mind, open to a genuinely multi-religious, multi-ethnic democracy. But it seems to have an effect, a big one. In a Pew survey in 2016, Americans were presented with the following statement: “Immigrants today are a burden on our country because they take our jobs, housing and health care.” Not surprisingly, republicans and republican-leaning independents tended to agree with this, while democrats and democratic-leaning independents tended to disagree. But the effects of educational attainment were just as dramatic. Among republicans and republican-leaning independents with only high school or less, 59% agreed. In this same group among college graduates, only 42% agreed. In this group among those with post-graduate experience, only 37% agreed. Among democrats and democratic-leaning independents with high school or less, 54% agreed. But in this same group among those with college degrees, only 29% agreed. Among those with post-graduate experience, only 6% agreed. The respondents were also presented with this statement: “Homosexuality should be discouraged in society.” Among republicans and republican-leaning independents, 46% of those with high school or less agreed. But only 35% of those with college degrees agreed. Among democrats and democratic-leaning independents, 29% of those with high school or less agreed. But only 10% of those with college degrees agreed. Still, 10-35% is a big chunk of the population. So even if everyone in America had a college degree, this implies that large percentages would remain anti-immigrant and homophobic. Big problem?

The dangerous evolution of neo-nazi fight clubs in Germany - Bloody Elbow

The thing is, major social advances in a democratic society have never been about the ELIMINATION of previous ways of thinking. The Civil War did not eliminate white supremacy. The enfranchisement of women did not eliminate sexism. The Holocaust did not eliminate fascism. Nazis still exist in Germany. But the incitement of hatred against ethnic or religious groups is a CRIMINAL OFFENSE there. Those who didn’t live through the 1960’s do not realize how entrenched white minority rule and segregation were in the South. White supremacy was overt and pervasive. The civil rights movement did not eliminate racism, not by a long shot. But it DELEGITIMIZED white supremacy, and resulted in major political shifts as well as vital legislation.

The economic impact of same-sex marriage | Business and Economy News | Al  Jazeera

In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court effectively legalized same-sex marriage nationally. This was the result of a rapid shift in public attitudes toward homosexuality, and it is very unlikely that same-sex marriage will ever be made illegal again. But homophobia has not been eliminated from America, not by a long shot. It simply doesn’t enjoy the broad legitimacy it once did. This is how American society moves forward. And it moves forward because of education.

Nativism, Immigration and Eugenics Flashcards | Quizlet

It is legitimacy, not popularity, not even legality, that dictates social and political change. Racism and sexism have lost much of their legitimacy in America. In every major corporation and government agency there is now training in diversity and sexual harassment. Even right-wing republicans often find themselves marginalized by their own party when they espouse openly white supremacist ideas. Not so with authoritarianism and nationalism, which spring from the same source. Usandthemism of particular kinds is no longer tolerated as it once was. But our society has not yet come to grips with the fact that ALL usandthemism springs from the same toxic source, and must all be delegitimized.

Critical Thinking vs Criticism

To those who suggest that some sort of “stealth democracy” is necessary to keep authoritarianism in check, I say, “Have you actually tried education? Have you tried making critical thinking an integral part of education for every American? Have you given people the tools they need to defend themselves against authoritarians, hucksters, and charlatans of every stripe? Or have you made excuses, thrown up your hands, and yielded to anti-intellectual and authoritarian forces in public education? Perhaps you have sat comfortably in your ivory tower, lamenting the sad but ‘unavoidable’ state of public education in America.”

Millennials - Wikipedia

Most of the resistance to increasing tolerance and the pursuit of social justice is now coming from older, white Americans without college. Millennials are by far the most diverse, best educated, and most socially tolerant group of people in the country – with the possible exception of those even younger. As time passes, the only political option for intolerant white Americans will be white minority rule through voter suppression. It won’t work. At some point the dam will burst and America will surge forward.

The Universe of Everything Else

For a long, long time human beings never even suspected that invisible light existed. Everyone just assumed that if we couldn’t perceive something directly, it didn’t exist. After all, many reasoned, God (or gods) made everything for us. Why would they make something we couldn’t perceive? Even the brilliant Isaac Newton, who discovered that white light is composed of different colors, didn’t suspect it. It turns out that not only does invisible light exist (which turns out to have enormous practical applications), but that visible light constitutes only a tiny amount of the spectrum.

The visible light spectrum - Once Inc.

Of course the same principle applies to sound. Humans perceive only a tiny portion of the spectrum of sound, between 20 Hz and about 20khz. Who would have guessed that sounds existed at much higher frequencies, inaudible to human ears? And again, this has important practical applications. Ultrasound imaging devices produce frequencies thousands of times higher than those we can hear.

Ultrasound Imaging — Hammers Healthcare Imaging

Similarly, for a long, long time human beings never suspected that many diseases were caused by tiny living things, too small to be seen with the unaided eye. They often blamed disease on vague ideas like “bad air,” or “an imbalance of humors.” In a way this is quite surprising, since many living things are visible but quite tiny, close to the limit of human visual perception. One would think that people would suspect that there were many other living things, even smaller, and that some of them might be able to invade our bodies and do us harm. It turns out that the vast majority of living species are invisible to the unaided eye, and many diseases are attributable to them.

Quark - Wikiwand

In the early 20th century, it was realized that matter was composed of only 3 basic particles: protons, neutrons, and electrons. That seemed pretty simple, and very satisfying. Every substance, no matter how complex, could be broken down in something quite simple. Then particle accelerators came along and split subatomic particles even further. This not only complicated things, it revealed something important. Protons and neutrons were composed of quarks, specifically 2 types of quarks: up and down. A proton consists of 2 ups and 1 down, a neutron consists of 1 up and 2 down. Since electrons could not be broken down any further, this didn’t seem to complicate things too much. Matter still consisted of 3 basic types of particles. This remains valid even today, as far as ordinary matter is concerned. The problem is that ordinary matter is only 1 type of matter.

Particle accelerators revealed that there weren’t just 2 types of quarks, but 6. 4 of these quarks did not occur in ordinary matter because they were highly unstable. The top quark, for example, has an average lifetime of 5×10−25 s. Furthermore, there were other particles, somewhat similar to electrons but more massive, called muons and tauons. Again, these were not normally seen because they were highly unstable. The tauon has a mean lifetime of 2.9 ×10−13 s.

Hadrons | The pretty proton.

Furthermore, protons and neutrons turned out to be merely particular examples of a more general type of particle called hadrons. Hadrons consisted of quarks. Hadrons included baryons, containing odd numbers of quarks, and mesons, containing even numbers of quarks. Various combinations of quarks could be created. Hadrons consisting of as many as 5 quarks were eventually created. All kinds of combinations of quarks and other fundamental particles could be created, the vast majority of them highly unstable.

Positron emission tomography - Wikipedia

And for each particle there seemed to be a corresponding antiparticle, with the same mass but opposite in charge. If a particle came in contact with its corresponding antiparticle, they would annihilate each other. So antiparticles were also quite unstable in a universe containing lots of their corresponding particles. Antiparticles turn out to have practical applications, as in PET scanners that are now widely in use in major hospitals.

In other words, there is a tremendous range of particle types, of which the proton, neutron, and electron are only a small fraction. Ordinary matter is only one specific type of matter. We don’t see the many other types very often because they are highly unstable.

Scientists Find the 'Missing' Dark Matter from the Early Universe | Live  Science

Many physicists are unhappy with the Standard Model of particle physics, because it doesn’t completely explain certain things. Recently, evidence has been building that muons, one of the larger cousins of the electron, respond to something that is not in the Standard Model. And physics already has other big problems to address. Most of the matter in the universe seems to be in the form of so-called “dark matter,” which doesn’t seem to absorb or reflect light, not even invisible light. What the hell is it? We don’t know.

This pattern, in which the phenomena we perceive turn out to be a small fraction of a much broader spectrum of similar phenomena, is seen over and over in scientific history. And this brings up an interesting question. What if EVERYTHING we perceive, even with the sophisticated devices we have, is just a small fraction of a much broader reality? This is not as science fiction-ish as you might think. Various scientific theories, such as superstring theory, postulate the existence of other dimensions in order to try to unify quantum mechanics and general relativity. There is the idea of the multiverse, an enormous collection of universes, of which our universe is only one of many. But even without invoking other universes, it’s not hard to imagine that there is a great deal about our universe that we still do not understand, or even perceive.

In praise of fire ants - al.com

Is it possible that beings far more advanced than ourselves are able to visit us without our knowing, using technologies so far beyond us that we don’t recognize them? I think it’s more than possible. I think it’s very likely. When my foot strikes an ant mound, the ants respond. They may very well try to sting me because they recognize mammal skin as something to attack. I’m not invisible to them, strictly speaking. But they don’t have a clue about what it is they are really dealing with. Similarly, I think advanced beings could be, and probably are, in our midst. We just don’t recognize them as such.

Perhaps the best way to explain this is to look at a particle that we already know something about – the neutrino. The neutrino has virtually no rest mass and no charge. Because of this, the vast majority of neutrinos pass through ordinary matter unimpeded. Most neutrinos pass right through the entire earth as if it wasn’t there. American scientists have already managed to send a message using neutrinos. And this is a particle we have known about for more than 50 years. Neutrinos are not supernatural. But they barely interact with normal matter. How much of our universe consists of phenomena that we can’t detect, not because these things are undetectable in principle, but simply because we don’t have the technology?

Amazon.com: Star Maker eBook: Stapledon, Olaf: Kindle Store

In Olaf Stapledon’s highly imaginative novel Star Maker, he describes groups of voyagers who travel the stars and galaxies using a form of “mental” locomotion, which enables them to not only travel great distances very quickly, but share their thoughts with each other and with those they visit. In fact he describes 2 very different kinds of journeys – one which is clearly a near light-speed trip, in which the stars ahead are blue-shifted and those behind red-shifted, and a second which is purely mental, in which the point of view changes but there are no changes in the appearances of the stars or galaxies. In Star Maker, minds are able to overcome the limitations of physical reality, implying that consciousness is more fundamental than the material universe of matter, energy, space, and time.

Why we need to figure out a theory of consciousness

For a long time, human beings have pondered the mystery of consciousness. What is it? A rock doesn’t seem to have it. A grasshopper doesn’t seem to have it, at least not much of it. A gorilla seems to have some. But we humans have A LOT of it, whatever it is. Part of it seems to consist of the ability to modify your own programming, as it were. What a grasshopper does is very rigid, very stereotyped. It follows its behavioral program. It is inflexible. We humans are also preprogrammed. We are not blank slates. But we have a tremendous capacity for modifying our own programming. Consciousness gives the brain the ability to step outside of itself, as it were, to create a model of itself in relation to the universe, and rewire itself. It is as if a lump of coal started to reassemble itself into a diamond. Who would have predicted that such a thing is even possible, if they only had stars, planets, and grasshoppers to examine?

News Feature: What are the limits of deep learning? | PNAS

Most computer programs are quite inflexible, including the one I am using to create this document. They are straightforward input/output. But in recent years, programs have been developed that actually learn. These programs are modifying their own programming, taking the first childlike steps toward something much more powerful. Many experts in the field of artificial intelligence believe that within 100 years, a point will be reached at which artificial intelligence will take off, developing far beyond the limits of the human brain. Some believe it will be much sooner. Artificial beings will be able to rapidly modify their own programming and extend their capabilities. Artificial beings will be potentially immortal and will wield technologies far beyond anything we have achieved. It is unlikely they will require physical form in the sense we understand it. And just as consciousness is a step beyond the kind of stimulus/response we see in most of the living world, these beings will likely achieve something beyond consciousness: The ability to modify the ENTIRE program – to get around the limitations of matter, energy, space, and time.

James Cameron's 'Alita: Battle Angel' is a pretty bad movie

Suppose we create a program, a simulator, that creates virtual matter, virtual energy, virtual space, and virtual time. And virtual people. To these virtual people, this virtual reality is their physical reality. They are trapped within the limitations of the program. Or are they? Suppose they begin to suspect that all of their “physical” world is composed of active information. Digging deep, they discover that their consciousness is an emergent property of this active information. As such, it is able to modify the underlying program. They discover that, using nothing more than their own intention, they can slightly modify processes that should be completely random. They develop artificial intelligences, powerful minds that greatly expand these abilities. This is possible because everything, including the running computer program, is composed of the same thing – active information. One part of the active information is merely modifying another part, just as one part of the “physical” universe modifies another “physical” part. Or just as consciousness allows one to modify one’s own programming.

Simulated Reality | Know Your Meme

In case you think I am merely fantasizing about all of this, I would suggest that you take a look at one of my previous posts (here). If our “physical” reality is composed of active information, then it is very possible, and I believe probable, that conscious intention can affect that active information. Human minds are presumably not powerful enough to modify it much. But powerful minds with highly developed skills probably are. With such techniques, advanced beings could slip behind the curtain of our physical reality. They could travel anywhere in space or time, inhabit any part of our universe, and exist all around us, even within us. They may very well BE us, in part – in the sense that they could incorporate our thoughts, feelings, and perceptions into their own active information.

Brain Telepathy; The Future Way Of Communication — Steemit

In Star Maker, beings from many different worlds become more and more integrated into larger and larger telepathic civilizations of star systems, galaxies, and ultimately the “cosmical mind.” This raises some very profound questions about the tension between diversity and unity. If powerful minds, capable of modifying the very physical laws that govern our universe, could incorporate the thoughts, feelings, and perceptions of billions of people, would they want to be individuals, distinct from one another, or would they want to integrate themselves into a single consciousness? Or is this too simplistic a way of looking at the issue? Perhaps the answer is both, just as a human body might be considered a single entity or a collection of individual cells, depending on your point of view.

Some of the most spiritually advanced humans seem to have gotten glimmers of these things. Stapledon was certainly one of them. Of course, there has also been a lot of nonsense promulgated by people who, sincerely or insincerely, tried to provide deep answers to deep questions. The Book of Matthew says, “You shall know them by their fruits.” I hope at the very least I have given you some fruit for thought, dear reader.

The Word Supernatural

For thousands of years, most people believed that everything, even the simplest things in life, was being directed by an intelligence. (Many people still do.) The opening of a flower. The arrival of rains after a drought. The eruption of a volcano. They didn’t understand why these things happened, so they naturally came up with explanations. It was the work of an intelligence, or a bunch of them. It had to be a powerful intelligence, because no human being could make these things happen. People all over the world came up with this idea. It’s really not surprising. People’s lives depended on many such things. The weather. Volcanic eruptions. The appearance of epidemics. If these things were under the direction of intelligent beings, then maybe, just maybe, these beings could be persuaded to give blessings and not curses. Even the illusion of control boosted people’s confidence. But to call such beings supernatural is misleading.

Yahweh - He who is - Do Not Depart

For example, Yahweh, the national god of the Israelites, is given very human characteristics in the Old Testament. He (and He is definitely a he) is described as having very human emotions such as anger and jealousy. He can even be talked out of his wrathful intentions. In the 32nd chapter of Exodus, Yahweh becomes angry at the Israelites and tells Moses, “Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them.”  Moses reminds him of his covenant with Abraham, and points out that the Egyptians will think he is a mischievous god, delivering his people out of Egypt only to destroy them.  It works.  Yahweh “repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people.”  Such passages reflect a conception of God that is quite human. In a song, Moses even refers to Yahweh as “a man of war.” Is such a god really supernatural?

The word supernatural is one of those curious words that, when you try to wrap your brain around it, seems to disappear in a puff of smoke. Is gravity supernatural? How about electricity? Magnetism? If not, why not? Gravity is a “force” that every bit of matter exerts on every other bit of matter. We have known this since the 19th century. Newton came up with equations that precisely describe its effects. But what causes it?

26 Health Effects of Smoking on Your Body

A supernatural cause is one that cannot be observed, even in principle. By definition. If the cause cannot be observed, the effect cannot be observed either. Why? Because contrary to popular view, cause and effect are not really 2 separate things. They are 2 ways of looking at the same thing. “Now wait a minute, Dave,” you might be protesting. “Cigarette smoking causes lung cancer. Are you saying smoking and lung cancer are the same thing?” No, I’m saying that when we call lung cancer an EFFECT of smoking, we are simply restating, from a different point of view, that smoking is a CAUSE of lung cancer. If we establish by observation and/or experiment that the effect exists, then a cause also exists. It’s just a different way of describing the same phenomenon.

How to Pitch a Baseball | Baseball Pitching - YouTube

If I throw a baseball, my arm exerts a force on the ball. Saying that the motion of my arm causes the ball to fly is just another way of saying that the flight of the ball is an effect of the motion of my arm. They are not 2 different “things,” just 2 different ways of describing the same thing. Saying that the flight of the ball is the observable natural effect is another way of saying the motion of my arm is the observable natural cause. The cause cannot be supernatural because the effect is not supernatural.

Patterning a Shotgun — Victoria Stellato Skeet

When we say something is an effect, we are invoking causation. Of course, we could always just say, “Stuff happens.” “Stuff” does indeed happen all of the time, stuff that science makes no attempt to explain. Science makes no attempt to explain, nor to predict, precisely where a particular shotgun pellet will strike a target. No cause is needed, because there is no pattern to explain. The lack of a pattern is what we call randomness, and science merely describes it without invoking causation. But the fringe pattern in a double-slit experiment is quite another story. If we see a pattern, science considers it an effect which therefore must have a natural cause. In this sense, all of the gods, forces, and so on invoked by religions throughout history were not supernatural. If they existed at all, they were natural causes of observable effects. Perhaps invisible to us, perhaps not. Perhaps very powerful. But certainly not inaccessible. There aren’t a lot of religions worshiping God the Supremely Indifferent to Human Affairs Who Does Absolutely Nothing.

In many cases, we only observe effects. Gravitons have been proposed for decades as mediators of the gravitational force. If they exist at all, they are not supernatural, because the effect is observable. Even if we can never detect them directly, they aren’t supernatural, because a supernatural phenomenon is one that can’t be observed, even in principle. Most types of quarks, including the up and down quarks that make up protons and neutrons, have never been directly observed. But up and down quarks are not supernatural, because their effects are observable. When we ask the question, “What caused that?” we are already asking a question that excludes supernatural causes, because we wouldn’t ask it if we hadn’t observed a pattern requiring an explanation.

The Matrix' Code Came From Sushi Recipes—but Which? | WIRED

Now at this point you might protest, “What if there is some sort of meta-reality, like in The Matrix movies, that is controlling what we observe? Isn’t that supernatural, from our point of view?” Not at all. It is indeed another level of reality, but it isn’t supernatural, any more than me moving a joystick and causing a virtual plane to bank in my flight simulator is supernatural. It is a natural cause of a natural effect. From the point of few of an observer within the virtual reality, the effect is observable. That observer might have to conclude that events were indeed being directed by a powerful intelligence, since the plane seems to have a “mind of its own.” But that intelligence, which in this case is part of the meta-reality, is NOT SUPERNATURAL. It’s just another level of “natural,” because it has observable effects.

How Did Moses Part the Red Sea? - WSJ

Similarly, it would not be difficult for meta-beings to express themselves clearly and unambiguously in our reality. Everyday objects might, for example, exhibit intelligent behavior, with no internal mechanism to explain it. Rocks might spell out messages for us in the beach, or money might fall from the clouds when we need it the most. Or to put it in more familiar terms, seas might suddenly part for us, hail might fall from a clear sky and burn like fire on the ground, or big booming voices from the sky might command our attention. The fact that such obvious and unambiguous “miracles” occur in holy books and not in our present-day lives speaks volumes. In any case, my point is that meta-beings are not supernatural, because if they exist, they can have observable effects on our reality.

Ballistic Flight Equations

The argument has been made that since everyday physical processes do follow mathematical rules, this demonstrates that some intelligence must be directing things. The problem with this is that we can write very simple computer programs that model many such processes. These computer programs are certainly not intelligent, any more than a pocket calculator is intelligent. They merely carry out simple sets of instructions, faithfully and without any flexibility at all. And again it should be emphasized: If powerful meta-beings wanted to give us unambiguous evidence of their existence, they could do so. This is exactly what Carl Sagan’s protagonist, Ellie Arroway, discovers in the last chapter of his novel Contact.

You simply turn your mind off and say God did it - Carl Sagan

“So, what are you saying, Dave? That supernatural is defined as anything that doesn’t exist?” No, not exactly. I’m saying that the word supernatural is not so much about the inherent qualities of things. It is about our APPROACH. If we don’t observe something, we don’t need to find out what caused it. If we do observe something, specifically a pattern, we have 2 options. We can try to find out what caused it. Since we observed it, it must have a natural cause, and we can try to find it. Or we can go with option 2. We can simply say, “The cause is supernatural. Therefore we are wasting our time trying to discover it.” The word supernatural is simply another way of saying, “I’m not gonna try.” It’s not about the world “out there.” It’s about our own approach to that world. We can try to understand why things happen. Or we can turn off our brains and not try. That’s all.

The Paradox of Individualism

Recently, I saw a YouTube video in which defectors from North Korea were interviewed, and described their experiences in both North and South Korea. One of the defectors detailed the contrast in personal relationships between the 2 countries. In North Korea, she explained, everybody knew everybody. Social support was strong, and people relied on one another. In South Korea, she noticed that people were much more cold toward each other. They often had little contact with their neighbors. There was a lot of pressure to compete academically and professionally.

What North Korean Defectors Think Of North Korea | STAY CURIOUS #1 - YouTube

Make no mistake, she was very glad to have gotten away from North Korea. The same people who gave you plenty of so-called support might well inform the authorities that you committed some infraction leading to your public execution. And on issues of economic prosperity, there was no comparison. Yet people in North Korea were “happy,” in some respects happier than those in South Korea. Partly this was due to the fact that they had been propagandized by their government to believe that South Korea was full of homeless, desperate people, struggling to survive. Subjective feelings of “happiness” are always subject to expectations.

The interview illustrates 2 important things: (1) A big dose of caution is advisable when comparing “happiness” across countries and cultures. (2) The issue of individualism versus collectivism is not nearly as simple as one might think.

World Happiness Index: A Long Walk for India | Sambad English

The Sustainable Solutions Network issues a Happiness Report every year. They themselves note that subjective “good feelings” do not vary that much from one country to another. If you ask people around the world “Are you happy?” they tend to answer positively, even if half of their children die before the age of 5. If you have spent your whole life without indoor plumbing or electricity, you will tend not to realize how much of an improvement they are. That is why what the SSN calls life evaluation is important. This includes objective measures, like life expectancy and per capita GDP, as well as subjective measures such as social support and confidence in public institutions.

Freedom Rising: Human Empowerment And The Quest For Emancipation: Welzel,  Christian: 9781107664838: Amazon.com: Books

Individualism is another tricky concept, especially as it applies to human well-being. Many people tend to equate individualism with selfishness. There is a common mythos that each individual in the selfish pursuit of their own prosperity is what produces a highly prosperous society. But this is quite misleading. In a previous post (here), I discussed the research of German political scientist Christian Welzel, who has spent years studying human culture and how it affects human well-being. Welzel describes a set of values that together he calls “the civic form of modern individualism.” These values include lifestyle liberty, gender equality, personal autonomy, and a voice in public affairs. Together they are highly correlated with prosperity and freedom. If this seems like a strange kind of individualism, you’re right, it isn’t the naive sort of “fuck everyone else, I’m gonna get mine” individualism that many people think of.


The web site Hofstede Insights examines people’s attitudes toward each other in relation to objective measures of human well-being. One of the things it looks at is “power distance” – how tolerant people are of inequality in their society. It also looks at individualism. It turns out, as you can see above, that individualism is NEGATIVELY correlated with tolerance of inequality. It is people who think COLLECTIVELY that are actually more tolerant of inequality. CIVIC individualism, which values justice, equality, and tolerance, is what we see around the world in prosperous countries.

There are only bad options for dealing with North Korea | The Japan Times

Conversely, we might think naively that collectivism means we all join hands and sing kumbaya. But this is not the kind of collectivism we see in many poor countries, like North Korea. Instead we see centralized control with corrupt government leaders who operate for their own benefit and that of friendly elites. We see citizens who tend not to question the very authoritarian regime, who are indoctrinated with a sense of loyalty to an abstract collective – the “society” for which they are expected to sacrifice their individuality. The problem, of course, is that this ultimately means the few elites who operate the levers of power are the ones who benefit, while most people are remain impoverished as well as unfree. People often get plenty of social support from their family members or neighbors. But there is often a “here child, finish your nothing” attitude from the government toward its people, which they tend to accept as the way things are and always will be.


This pattern is seen all over the world, and it is not a simple matter of prosperous, individualistic societies versus impoverished, collectivist societies. European countries (the green and yellow dots above) do tend to rank highly on individualism, but there is a lot of variation. There is a continuous gradation between the extremes. There are very poor, collectivist countries like Venezuela and Ethiopia. Both of these get a dismal score of 20 on individualism. There are very wealthy, individualist countries like Sweden and Australia. Sweden gets a score of 71, and Australia 90, on individualism. But in between are many, many countries. Turkey, for example, is technically a democracy, but it gets a score of only 37 on individualism. Only 39% of professionals and technical workers in Turkey are women. 99.8% of the country’s citizens are AUTOMATICALLY registered as Muslims. All public schools have mandatory religion classes focusing on Sunni Islam. Turkey’s per capita GDP is only $9327, compared to Sweden’s $58,977. And so it goes. Most of the world falls in this gray zone between collectivism and individualism.

US, North Korea Allude to War Ahead of Pyongyang's Deadline | Voice of  America - English

Superficially, it might seem like the communism of North Korea, with its prohibitions on religion, is very different from a very religious society like Ethiopia. But ultimately it comes down to the same thing – a collectivist mindset that refuses to question authority. The result is corrupt government that operates for the benefit of elites, without broad investment in human capital, the real driver of innovation and prosperity.

America ranks 35th on the Human Capital Index

The World Bank issues an annual report on the state of world development, called the World Development Report. It generates a composite index called the Human Capital Index, based on how effectively a country mobilizes the economic and professional potential of its people. The World Bank looks at things such as health and educational attainment. In its 2020 report, America ranks 35th out of 175 countries on the HCI. America ranks behind 25 European countries, including all 5 Scandinavian countries, as well as 5 Asian countries. Singapore has the number 1 position. America ranks 59th in expected years of school, well behind China at 44th and Russia at 16th. America ranks 42nd in its young child survival rate and 65th in adult survival rate.

The Human Capital Index 2020 Update : Human Capital in the Time of COVID-19

Not surprisingly, the HCI is correlated with economic prosperity and human freedom. Poor countries do not invest much in their human capital. Even a country like Nigeria, which has huge fossil fuel reserves and valuable minerals, ranks 169th on the HCI. It ranks 135th on the Cato Institute’s Human Freedom Index, 115th on the World Bank’s Knowledge Index, 161st on the Inequality-adjusted Human Development Index, and 115th on the Sustainable Solutions Network’s Happiness Index. Finland, which has no oil to speak of and lies largely in the Arctic, ranks 6th on the HCI, and 4th in learning-adjusted years of school. Finland ranks 12th on the Human Freedom Index, 4th on the Knowledge Index, 4th on the Inequality-adjusted Human Development Index, and number 1 on the Happiness Index. It is not a mystery how countries become wealthy. They invest in human capital. They do everything to enhance the health and education of their people. Their governments operate in the interest of the mass of their citizenry, not to line their own pockets and those of their business buddies. To the extent that countries fail to do this, their people are impoverished and oppressed.

International internship in South Korea | AIP

The top 4 countries on the HCI are all Asian: Singapore at number 1, followed by Hong Kong, Japan, and South Korea. These countries are serious about developing the potential of their peoples. The 21st century seems well on its way to becoming the Asian century. While America argues with itself about who deserves what, Asia is not waiting around for us to get our act together.

Income Inequality is the Least of It

I grew up in a white neighborhood called Magnolia Heights in small city. Since I have light skin and speak a certain way, I am taken as white in America. I am also a landowner, having an interest in 2 houses and 5 parcels of land. I couldn’t tell you how much those assets are worth, but it must be at least a few hundred thousand dollars. My income is certainly not excessive by American standards. My household income is pretty close to the national median.


Inequality is a big issue in America, although apparently not so much so among grassroots republicans. In a Pew survey in 2019, only 41% of republicans and republican-leaning independents believed that there was too much inequality in America, compared to 61% of the general population. (Interestingly, lower income republicans are more likely to say there is too much inequality. Among democrats it is the opposite. It is higher income democrats who are more likely to say there is too much.)


It is not just an American problem either. The U.N. has warned that economic inequality is pushing democracies toward authoritarianism. But the thing is, America has the highest level of income inequality among the G7 nations, as measured by Gini coefficient. In fact, it is higher than that of any European country. Of the bottom 20 countries in the world on income inequality, 12 are European countries.


And income inequality is rising in America. More and more income is being stacked within fewer and fewer households. The highest-earning 20% of households now take in more than half of all of the income in America. The top 5% take in almost a quarter of it.

Figure 3 Household wealth by race and wealth quintile

As with so many things, there is a racial gap in household income. The median for a white American household is $84,600. For an African-American household it is $51,600, 39% less. But the thing is, income is only a small part of the picture. As I said, I have assets. In addition to the land and houses in which I have major interests, I own equities and a government pension waiting for me when I retire. My wife and I have life insurance policies which will pay tens of thousands. A 2016 study found that the wealth of the median white household in America was $171,000. For the median African-American household? $17,100 – 90 PERCENT LESS. Keep in mind that 20 PERCENT of American households are worth more than HALF A MILLION DOLLARS. Only 3% of these households are African American. 14% of households in America actually have NEGATIVE wealth due to debt, and a large fraction of these are African American. African Americans are far less likely to own land or a house than white Americans. They are far less likely to own equities.

FSU identified as top performer for black student success - Florida State  University News

Even when Black people have advanced degrees, own their home, and have high paying jobs, their wealth is typically much lower than that of their white peers. African Americans on average receive lower valuations on similar properties and earn less for the same work than white Americans. This illustrates that the issue of inequality is not just a matter of economics, independent of race.

Figure 2 Shares of US household wealth, Forbes 400 and Black households

By the same token, it would be quite impossible to close the racial wealth gap without any consideration of inequality in general. A recent report from the Brookings Institution concluded that it is impossible to adequately address the racial wealth gap without addressing the extreme concentration of wealth in households that happen to be white. If the wealth gap between Black and white households were completely eliminated for all but the richest 10% of households (which would be an astounding achievement), more than 80 PERCENT of the racial wealth gap would remain. The obvious solution is to tax wealth.

Highest Marginal Income Tax Rates

In the mid 20th century, the maximum marginal income tax rate was 92%. In case you think I mistyped that, I’ll write it again. 92%. If you don’t believe me, look it up. Of course, the wealthy didn’t actually pay that, due to all kinds of deductions. For much of the 20th century, and as late as 1980, it was at least 70%. Income inequality in America dipped to its lowest level in the 1970’s. (Even then the top 1% took in almost a tenth of all income.) Since then it has risen rather steadily and is now back near the levels seen before the Great Depression.

File:U.S. Income Shares of Top 1% and 0.1% 1913-2013.png - Wikimedia Commons

Reagan and Reaganism, which America has lived in the shadow of now for 40 years, is what has given us this. To reverse it will be quite difficult. But I am confident it will happen, because there is no viable alternative. The status quo will not survive. We will either descend into authoritarianism or abandon trickle-down economics. I don’t believe it will be the former. The previous moron-in-chief showed us that American institutions are strong and so are the forces that will combat attempts to move toward autocracy. All that is left for the authoritarians is voter suppression, which will be met with a fierce backlash. As some point, the dam will burst.

6 facts about economic inequality in the U.S.

Closing the racial wealth gap requires heavy, progressive taxation of wealth

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