Monday, June 11, 2012

Another desperate Leftist attempt to escape obvious reality 

In yet another of their implacable attempts to deny the reality of racial differences, they make some quite surpising  assumptions  -- such as the immutability of institutions and the inability of poor people to change or benefit from example

There is absolutely no doubt that institutions matter but why different people have the institutions they do will astound you.  They apparently have no choice in the matter.  But I won't go on.  Let Steve Sailer tell the story:
MIT’s Daron Acemoglu is a rock star among economists, one of the ten most cited in his profession. This is largely because of the paper the Istanbul-born Armenian cowrote in 2001: The Colonial Origins of Comparative Development. Other economists have found that it provides a suave way to finally answer the embarrassing question of why, in the 21st century, some countries are rich and some are poor.

Acemoglu has a big new book out with James A. Robinson, Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty, that makes his case at great length.

To understand Acemoglu’s professional popularity, you have to grasp how awkward the major features of global economic reality are to careerist economists. If you look naively around the world, you might get the impression that, say, Chinese territories such as Taiwan, Singapore, and Hong Kong have been economically dynamic because they have a lot of Chinese people in them. Moreover, the Overseas Chinese control much of business in Southeastern Asia, so we might assume that the Chinese tend to have a lot on the ball wherever they go.

The epochal conclusion that Deng Xiaoping, urged on by Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew, drew from this in the late 1970s was that if all the Chinese folks in the world were getting rich except the Maoist Chinese, the problem must lie more in the “Maoist” than in the “Chinese” part. And, indeed, once liberated from Mao’s dogmas and whims, the Mainland Chinese responded with one of history’s greatest economic surges.

To an economist looking for invitations to conferences, however, the danger of adopting the Lee-Deng perspective is its flip side: Some other peoples, such as black Africans, New World Indians, and Pacific Islanders, have tended to lag notably behind Northeast Asians and Europeans, whether at home or abroad, and under all sorts of ideologies and institutions.

Acemoglu’s contribution was to come up with a regression analysis that, he claimed, showed that Third World poverty was the fault of those all-purpose bad guys, European imperialists. In colonies where early Europeans settlers faced low risks of dying from tropical diseases (such as Massachusetts), they set up good “inclusive” institutions. But in colonies where white men died like flies (such as Nigeria), they set up bad “extractive” institutions.

Institutions are (practically) everything, you see. If, say, the Central African Republic is poor, it’s not because it’s a republic in Central Africa (or because poverty is the default condition of humanity), but because it has extractive institutions. And that’s because Europeans didn’t set up inclusive institutions for the Central Africanese.

If Australia or New Zealand or Canada are richer than the Central African Republic, it’s not because Australia or New Zealand or Canada are full of Europeans, it’s because the Europeans hogged the inclusive institutions for the places they colonized. Or something. Acemoglu wrote:  "These results suggest that Africa is poorer than the rest of the world not because of pure geographic or cultural factors, but because of worse institutions."

According to Acemoglu, that’s pretty much all you need to know. From the abstract of his 2001 paper:

    "Our estimates imply that differences in institutions explain approximately three-quarters of the income per capita differences across former colonies. Once we control for the effect of institutions, we find that countries in Africa or those farther away from the equator do not have lower incomes."

Now, you might think that Acemoglu’s model for predicting national wealth in ex-colonies, such as the United States or New Guinea, is:

    1. More white people means more wealth.

How dare you think such a thing! Instead, it’s a two-step process:

    1. More white people hundreds of years ago means better institutions today.

    2. Better institutions then means more wealth today.

Two steps are better than one, according to Occam’s Butter Knife.

In Why Nations Fail, Acemoglu and Robinson have extended their Inclusive Good/Extractive Bad dichotomy. If anything good ever happened anywhere in world history, it was due to “inclusive institutions” and vice-versa. Sir Karl Popper, the philosopher of science, would have torn his hair out trying to read Why Nations Fail. He would have found Acemogluism as unfalsifiable (and thus as unscientific) as Freudianism and Marxism.

Now, I’m a big fan of inclusive institutions and don’t like exploitative ones. But Acemoglu’s dogma strikes me as a tad superficial. For instance, he focuses on the border cities of Nogales, Arizona, and Sonora. Why is the American side richer? It must be because America has better institutions.

OK…but what makes for better institutions north of the border? After all, Mexico has had plenty of opportunity to study American institutions. Could the enduring differences have something to do with America having a lot of Americans?

What’s the real story behind good and bad institutions? Two brave economists from Africa, Isaac Kalonda-Kanyama of the University of Johannesburg and Oasis Kodila-Tedika of the University of Kinshasa, have tackled this question head-on in a new study entitled Quality of Institutions: Does Intelligence Matter? Their conclusion:

    "We analyze the effect of the average level of intelligence on different measures of the quality of institutions, using a 2006 cross-sectional sample of 113 countries. The results show that average IQ positively affects all the measures of institutional quality considered in our study, namely government efficiency, regulatory quality, rule of law, political stability and voice and accountability. The positive effect of intelligence is robust to controlling for other determinants of institutional quality."

Don’t expect Kalonda-Kanyama and Kodila-Tedika to get big career boosts from their finding.


I taught in a School of Sociology at a major Australian university for many years and did a lot of research while I was there.  The one sociological fact that impressed me most during all that time, however,  was something I saw during a trip to California in the '70s.  I was staying in Los Angeles and decided to take a day trip down  to Tijuana, which was at that time much better known for brass bands than for drugs and crime. 

I was impressed by the 8-lane American  concrete highway leading all the way to the border but was astounded to emerge from border control onto a dirt track lined with barrels. A first-class American freeway suddenly gave  way to a Mexican dirt track.  I guess that the Mexicans have improved their side of the border since then but the contrast between the two sides of the border could not have been more graphic at the time and has stood in my mind ever since as proof of the importance of culture and its associated institutions.

And there is no difficulty in seeing  why Mexican culture bears much responsibility for the state of Mexican roads.  But with the  tutelary example of a triumphant American culture visible just over the border, how do we explain the failures of Mexican culture today?  Are Mexicans incapable of learning?  That claim sounds rather like a racist statement in itself.

To attribute current Mexican culture to something Spaniards did hundreds of years ago rather that to what Mexicans are like today is something only a Leftist could believe.  No doubt the conquistadores had a big influence in their  time but culture is ever-changing and what it is at any one point in time has to reflect the choices made by  people around that time. 

Note just a few  examples of rather rapid  changes of culture within the same society.  These days  men  rarely wear hats.  Within living memory men  were regarded as improperly dressed if they stepped outside their  door at any time of the year without a hat on.  I remember going to work with a  hat on myself.  And in the 19th century, beards were virtually universal on men.  And less trivially, what has happened to the distinction between the deserving and undeserving poor that so dominated 19th century social thinking?  One could go on about the decay of civility, manners, standards etc.  The very idea of a static,  immutable culture and its associated institutions is a towering absurdity.

And when it comes to differences between cultures, look, for instance,  at whether in the given  culture  there is little general respect for  impartial justice.  In such a culture  you will bribe the judge and the judge will  take the bribe. And much flows from that

Furthermore, the claim that the British left behind some sort of malevolent cultures and institutions  in Africa is itself malevolent.   When the British departed places like Nigeria and Ghana they left behind well-organized countries with good communications and prosperous economies  -- plus standards of law, order and justice far higher than anything there today.  In short, they left behind excellent foundations for the development of modern, prosperous and civilized societies.  That no such development took place is the doing of the inhabitants, not the doing of the evil "colonialists".  

How Leftists hate that very word:  "colonialist"!  It seems to make them shake with rage, regardless of the reality it denotes.  They are deeply irrational people.  That there has never been in recent centuries a more rabid colonial power than Soviet Russia doesn't count, of course

Saturday, June 02, 2012

The Sabbath

"Six days thou shalt work, but on the seventh day thou shalt rest"  -- Exodus 34:21

My recent very unpleasant medical problems have made me ask what is the best way forward in my life.  To answer that question I turned to the wisest book I know:  The Bible.  And I found the quotation above.  Following Bible advice has always worked wonderfully for me so I now intend to follow that piece of advice too.  I intend from now on the keep the Sabbath and will blog only six days of the week instead of seven. 

But it will be the real Sabbath I will keep,  not the pagan abomination of the Sun's day.  It was precisely because the pagans had set aside the first say of the week as a day to worship the sun that the ancient Hebrews defiantly made the seventh day of the week their holy day and I will follow their example.  I will no longer blog on Saturday but will do other things.

But I will not be surrounding what I do with rules.  As Jesus said, the Sabbath is made for man, not man for the Sabbath.  The Commandment above simply says to do no work and that does not exclude doing all sorts of other things.

One of the things I would like to do today is to learn the words of the Stabat Mater in full.  It is the most famous Medieval Latin poem and has been set by many composers  -- with the glorious rendition by Pergolesi being best known.  I already sort of know the poem but would like to be able to recite the whole thing right through without interruption.  To be able to do that will be pleasure, not work.  Latin poetry is wonderful even in a work of Marian devotion.

Stabat mater dolorosa
Juxta crucem lacrimosa
Dum pendebat filius

Cuius animam gementem
contristatam et dolentem
Pertransivit gladius ... etc

The is a video from Italy here which offers a respectful version of the first part of the Pergolesi masterpiece.  If it's a techno beat you like, you will hate it.  This is a work of profound contemplation about the central event of the Christian faith. Even I as an atheist can feel the power  of it.

Update from my first Sabbath:

Anne and I had a leisurely trip to Wynnum (by the sea) in the Humber for morning tea  and I spent most of the afternoon studying the Stabat Mater.  My old brain was not up to memorizing everything I wanted but I made some progress.  I have had the devil of a job remembering:

O quam tristis et afflicta
fuit illa bendicta
Mater unigeniti

But I think I have now got it.  I only want to learn the first 8 verses anyway.  The Marian devotion in the later verses is a bit much for me

I also spent some time studying "Prufrock" by T.S. Eliot in the afternoon and read it to Anne after dinner.  I think she could see why such a dismal piece of work was nonetheless important and famous.  It does have some good lines in it (e.g. "I have measured out my life with coffee spoons") and it seems clear to me what it is all about  -- though there are various versions of that.  A stream of consciousness poem does lend itself to various interpretations.

Exegetical Update

I am delighted to report that one of my readers has updated me on the history of Sunday worship among the early Christians.  It would seem that it was another one of Paul's innovations designed to  attract non-Jewish adherents.  As well as dismissing the need for circumcision, he also dismissed the  need for worship to be on a particular day.  Christ's statement that the Sabbath was made for man certainly gave him considerable authority for that.

We read:

On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight.
— Acts 20:7

One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.
— Romans 14:5–6

Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath.
— Colossians 2:16

The fact that the resurrection was described as happening on a Sunday no doubt helped greatly towards sanctifying that day. Some interesting reports on second century Christian usage here (Scroll down).

So clearly Saturday worship is not a requirement for Christians but Sunday worship is still of pagan origins and I like the Jewish attitude of decisively rejecting anything that deflected attention from their unique God and his great wisdom.