The salesman

I’ve told this story before, but it’s appropriate today.

One afternoon, two friends of mine and I stopped by my uncle’s house. He was working as the deputy director of Military Affairs at the White House, and the three of us were spending a long weekend at my grandparent’s house near Mount Vernon. My friends never forgot the way he introduced himself to them; he pointed to a hat, a fur thing with a red star on it, and the first words out of his mouth were:

“You know the difference between you and me? I killed the guy who wore that hat.”

We spent a few hours there with him, listened to his stories and otherwise shot the breeze. The man, to this day, is incapable of talking to any young male without selling them on the Corps, and is a salesman nonpareil. By the time we left, we were singing the Marine Corps anthem in the car and arguing about which branch of the Corps we wanted to serve in. We were halfway back to campus when the spell finally wore off and Big Chilly suddenly said: “Wait a minute, I don’t want to join the military! What the hell are we thinking?”

But here’s to those who did and became the finest warriors the world has ever known. Here’s to you, Uncle Chuck, and to you too, Eric and JC. And most of all, here’s to you, Gamp. We never, ever forget you, but especially not today.

Happy 230th birthday, Marines.

Mailvox: terrible sycophants

In which DM of Key Words demonstrates that I have some of the worst sycophants in the blogosphere. It apparently seems to have escaped whole swaths of the Voxologisti that the entire point of being a sycophant cum sock puppet is supposed to revolve around offering mindless adulation and enthusiastically embracing my every drop of wisdom, however errant. DM addresses the critique of Ralph Peters I posted yesterday:

Vox is not taking on the concept that increasing the number of workers an employer has to choose from helps the employer and – in doing so – also helps the economy. Instead he is bringing in distractors like comparing 1800’s growth to growth today (basically comparing a relatively new market that was expanding with each state added to the union to a well established one) or women in the armed forces (always good to sidetrack the issue).

This miss on the issue at hand is probably not accidental. Vox actually has a degree in economics from an Ivy League institution, so he is more than familiar with the pros and cons of a free market. He knows that offering “a or b” is more economically beneficial than simply offering “a,” so he knows he can’t win on a strictly economic front. He has other issues with women in the workforce – some actually well founded – and so attacks arguments that are contrary to the outcome he would prefer.

Personally, I feel he would be better off fighting his battles on his own territory. He does have valid issues that he can easily back up and can probably stand on their own merits. He doesn’t need to jump into side issues like this.

Before I address the substance, let me point out a few things. 1. I don’t have a degree in econ from an Ivy League institution, I have degrees in Econ and Asian Studies (plus a history minor) from an Ivy League wannabee institution. Same price, less status, prettier girls, better parties. 2. Since Peters brought up women in the armed forces as a primary example of his point, it’s hardly side-tracking the issue.

Indeed, I will even use that example to demonstrate how the entire argument can be won on the purely economic front DM mentions. According to DM’s argument, the ability to choose A or B is always more beneficial than if A alone is on offer. And this is true, in general, but it only holds true in the most general and simplistic senses and is dependent upon a rational actor making the selection.

For example, the ability to have A and B serving together in the military is no different than the ability to employ A and B in the workplace. Assuming a perfectly rational recruiting process or employer, the best Bs will replace the worst As, thereby improving military efficiency or corporate productivity and therefore increasing economic growth. However, this reasonable assumption fails to account for the very real possibility that a mixed military/workforce will introduce an element of disharmony (c) that will the average productivity of the As such that (A+B)c < 2A. What DM assumes is a settled case of economic theory is in fact no such thing.

The salient question is whether (c) actually exists, and if so, if it is sufficient to reduce the average productivity of A. Furthermore, copious evidence exists to demonstrate that the recruiter/employer is not, in fact, perfectly rational and is quite willing to accept less productive Bs to replace more productive As. (To DM’s credit, he suggests this possibility as an outside factor, although I tend to see it as an internal one inherent to the predictable characteristics of the Bs under discussion.)

Now, to address the question of why I did not make use of this analysis in the first place. The answer is the notorious shaving implement of Occam. Peter’s entire argument is founded on the flimsy and inaccurate assertion of “stunning” economic growth in the past fifty years. Since his entire argument is based on this, the easiest way to take it down is to simply demonstrate that the present rate of economic growth – which has averaged 3.3 percent over the last decade – is nothing special. (My suspicion is that he was misled by the big increase in GDP per capita without taking inflation into account.)

Interestingly enough, as our correction of DM’s theory would indicate, productivity per worker and the corresponding rate of economic growth has slowed significantly in the last 32 years since women entered the workforce in sufficient numbers to reduce the average wage rate, and not only in the USA but in every G7 country.

1950-1973 Output per Worker Annual Growth USA
2.1%

1973-1995 Output per Worker Annual Growth USA
United States
0.6%

This would tend to support the concept of a productivity reducing (c) element at work.

Kidding themselves

It’s ironic, if somewhat unsurprising, that so many conventional liberals insist on thinking of themselves as apolitical moderates. The fact that their basic assumptions are perfectly in line with those of the mainline Democratic party – if not the Move On Xtreme Neosocialists – doesn’t seem to matter as much as their desire to aspire to being the voice of impartial reason. But this is as ridiculous as the New York Times and the ABCNNBCBS cabal’s insistence on their “objectivity”.

Consider Scott Adams’ list of nominees for his Weasel Awards:

Weaseliest Individual
George W. Bush
Karl Rove
Cindy Sheehan
Ray Nagin
Tom DeLay
Tom Cruise
Michael Brown (ex-FEMA head)
Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (Gov. of Louisiana)
Rafael Palmeiro (baseball player suspended for steroids)
Arnold Schwarzenegger
Lindy England (Abu Ghraib abuser)
Mary Landrieu (Senator of Louisiana)
Bill Frist

That’s five major Republican figures and one minor Republican figure versus four minor Democratic figures. Hillary Rodham Clinton nee Clinton nee Rodham Clinton nee Rodham can’t even get a nomination? Jean-Francois Flippy Flop isn’t even potentially a weasel?

Weaseliest Behavior
Advocating the teaching of Intelligent Design in schools
Gas price gouging
Reporting it as “finding supplies” when white people loot
Corporate boards approving CEO pay packages
Politicians blaming other politicians
Outsourcing
Downloading music or movies without paying

This sounds like a list of Democratic Party talking points. Where’s the far more hypocritical examples such as the media support for campaign finance reform, gun control advocates who have armed bodyguards and those who invoke Martin Luther King in seeking to justify skin color-based discrimination? Adams claims that these lists “doesn’t reflect my views. I have no coherent political views of my own.”

Now, this may be true, but not only have we heard that before, we hear it all the time. So, forgive us if we’re skeptical. By way of example, consider Chuck Klosterman waxing anti-ideological on ESPN:

I am an apolitical person. Absolutely nobody believes me when I say that, but it’s true. Every conservative person I know thinks I’m mixing Noam Chomsky’s personal Kool-Aid, and every liberal I know seems to assume I want to shampoo Ann Coulter’s hair while watching outtakes from “The Passion of the Christ.” I have no idea how this happened. For example, I don’t have an opinion on abortion. I really, truly do not. You want to have an abortion? Fine; take my car keys, You think abortion is murder? Well, you’re probably right. Who knows? Either way, it doesn’t have anything to do with me. Do I think George W. Bush is the worst president of my lifetime? Well, of course I do — but that’s not because he’s a Republican. It’s because he somehow (a) got into Yale, yet (b) claims “the jury is still out” on the theory of evolution.

Everything is situational, and that reality informs how I interpret the world. At least within my mind, it seems as though any people who consciously and consistently perceive themselves as right-leaning or left-leaning are simply admitting that they don’t want to think critically about complexity. It always strikes me as staunchly unsophisticated and mildly insane.

Ah yes, the old “I’m being criticized from both sides, ergo I am perfectly situated in the middle” line. That’s new. Now, Klosterman may truly be indifferent to politics, but it’s not at all difficult to determine where he stands on the political spectrum, which is to the left of center. Only someone who is inherently left-leaning subscribes to the notion that all everything is situational, and furthermore, no one who has any connection to the right would ever suggest Noam Chomsky as a counterpoint to Ann Coulter; you either have to be left-leaning or a student of the left to even bring him up in the first place.

A disdain for consistency is the hobgoblin of the ignorant and an inability to make sense of complexity is not an indication of sophistication, but of insufficient intelligence.