Tag Archives: math

Demonize Sloppy Accounting

The Economist describes Bernie Sanders’ candidacy as the biggest-ever student prank. It was certainly amusing watching his interview with Bill Maher, wherein both tried heroically to “undemonize” socialism. Regular readers know that Jeremiah takes a nuanced view of socialism, allowing for redistribution but debunking the statist agenda.

Mr. Maher made the point that Social Security, Medicare, et alia are “socialist” programs – and we like them, so socialism is groovy, right? Well, no. These programs have epic problems, which could be fixed using free market methods. See How to Control Health Costs, for example.


The important thing is to talk about specific policies, regardless of the demonic label, and this is where Sen. Sanders went badly wrong. He repeatedly used the charlatan’s formula, “we can pay for X by taxing Y,” where X is a free pony and Y is something we don’t understand. Like, we can pay for free college by taxing speculation on Wall Street. Yes, he actually said that. Cue cheers from the college kids (except the finance majors).

The right way to analyze this proposal is by splitting it, just as you would split a transaction in double entry accounting. If free college is a good idea, then the funding side can be considered separately. If taxing “speculation” is feasible, then we should do it anyway and reduce the deficit.

Free college might not be a good idea, if costs continue to rise and quality continues to fall, as they have been doing under the current subsidized (but not free) system. The likeliest outcome is that employers will respect a state college degree even less than they do today, if such a thing is possible. This is not to pick on free college, but merely to show that universal free stuff is not always a good idea.

Turning to the funding side, we should definitely tax those bad speculators on Wall Street. They’re the folks who make the price of heating oil go up in the winter. We should put a big fat Tobin Tax on them. What could go wrong?



Filed under Economy

That Old Time Religion

Camille Paglia says that an empire is ripe for the fall, right around the time its citizens gain total freedom of sexual expression. We may assume that hers is not a moral judgment, but an empirical one – correlation, not cause.

There [comes] a time when these fine gradations of gender identity—I’m a male trans doing this, etc.—this is a symbol of decadence, I’m sorry.

The correlation model holds up pretty well, for falling empires in general. Rome is a favorite example. Paglia adds Egypt and Babylon. America, as we have shown, started going to hell in the 1970s, and has declined pari passu as our society has become more liberal.

The reactionary right believes there is a causal link. America’s military and economic might depended on the “moral fabric” of our society, which was frayed by evils like abortion, gay marriage, and women’s rights. Plenty of evangelists take this line, along with moralizing enemies abroad.

Policies are being pursued that place on the same level a multi-child family and a same-sex partnership … This is the path to degradation. – Vladimir Putin

Jeremiah rejects all this, of course. We define morality in purely civic terms. It means going to work, paying taxes, serving your country, and being politically active. The sexually repressive definition, which goes by the name of “family values,” is spurious.

Here, then, is a scary thought. What if there is a causal link, and the link is repression? What if the kind of regimentation that produces good soldiers and engineers, also produces bigotry and discrimination? That would mean that a liberal society is always a weak society.

We disregarded the old institutions and the old values, including some we should have kept – like fortitude and self-reliance.

There are counterexamples, like northern Europe, but circumstantial evidence weighs heavily in favor of the reactionaries. We must understand that these people see “good old American values” as a package deal. Gays were in the closet, and we had 5% GDP growth.

Social liberals have made the same conflation. We disregarded the old institutions and the old values, including some we should have kept – like fortitude and self-reliance. Once again, we have arrived at the set theory definition of centrism. The right wants all of the old values back, including the bad ones, and the left wants none, overlooking the good ones.

America needs social norms and institutions that reinforce productive behavior. We need families (of any kind) that stick together, and kids that stick with math. People are saying that we will fail because we have forgotten our values. Let’s not fail.

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Filed under Center Field, Education

America Ranks 30th in Math

book-photo-smartestLet’s hope Arne Duncan is reading The Smartest Kids in the World.  Using a combination of PISA research and personal interviews, Amanda Ripley deftly  illustrates the failure of our American educational system.  You have read the facts here.  We educate our children badly relative to the rest of the world, and we spend too much money doing it.

Ms. Ripley enlivens the facts using vignettes of three adorable schoolkids studying abroad in the world’s top systems – Finland, Korea, and Poland.  She debunks the canned social explanations, not out of ideology, but simply because she doesn’t accept excuses.  The PISA results help her in this, because they control for social variables.  Here are some of her conclusions:

  • Shielding kids from accountability sets them up for bigger failures later in life.
  • We need standards for graduation, including an exam.
  • We have a culture that doesn’t understand academic rigor.
  • This culture says that good intentions, rather than skills, make good teachers.
  • Teachers should have better pay and more respect, but they should also be better qualified.
  • We spend too much money on gimmicks, and we place too much emphasis on sports.

Perhaps the book’s greatest value lies in illustrating what rigor looks like, and the author’s optimism that American kids would rise to the challenge if it were offered.

Since Secretary Duncan probably is reading the book, we must address its one failing as public policy.  Like many people, Ms. Ripley assumes that reform must come from the federal government as a top down mandate.  The author seems to count states’ rights as an obstacle, which is odd because elsewhere in the book she analyzes the states individually – like distinct countries.

Texas, we learn, is a shining example like Poland.  California is compared to Greece, and businesses are migrating from California to Texas.  So, why not implement reforms at the state level?  American states are large enough to manage their school systems independently, or in regional consortia of their own making.

The federal DOE should assist in implementing reforms designed by state leaders, especially – since it is a national organization – as a counterweight to the teachers’ union.  The feds should provide negotiation support, research assistance and advice, with autonomy to the states.

Some states might be slow to reform, while other states blaze the trail.  That’s the point of our federal system.  Comparisons among states would become a powerful motivation.  We could even enlist PISA to do the ranking.

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Filed under Education

Bad Math Roundup

SowellDr. Thomas Sowell is cited here, debunking the “one percent” myth, and we have finally found a pop culture reference for the enduring class fallacy.  In the 1979 movie, Breaking Away, the townie played by Dennis Quaid laments that, while he is an aging loser – the college kids are forever young!

That’s right, the local college is populated by an enduring class of attractive, carefree kids, who are always aged 18 to 22.  It’s easy to see why he resents them.

Next up, we have this gloom and doom piece from the NBER.  The author lops 0.5% off American GDP growth because it accrues to – you guessed it – the one percent.  Said portion doesn’t count because it’s not going to real Americans.  Never mind the conventional socialist idea that GDP roams around loose, to be “captured” by the rich.  This is bad math because it voids his use of the historical figures.  The author must now back out tainted GDP from all his other calculations.

Finally, just to make three, we have Charles Hugh Smith’s excellent series on pooled risk in America.  In part two, he debunks the popular delusion that the state has an infinite capacity to mutualize risk – and by extension, debt.  No one should have such a delusion, though, because the population sharing the risk is the same population that is exposed.

The proper denomination for national risk, or national debt, is per capita.  America may be a large pool, but we have no more risk tolerance per capita than, say, Germany.  In any case, Jeremiah doubts that the spongers and enablers actually have this delusion.  They are just going to stuff their pockets until the dollar collapses.  Get it in yuan, boys.

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Filed under Economy