Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Michael Roberts on Keynesianism & the modern left

Amazon link

I'm finding Michael Roberts's latest book a lot punchier than "The Long Depression". After a strong and penetratingly-clear review of Marx's 'three laws' (of value, of accumulation and of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall) he moves on to Marx's critics and has this interesting analysis of the continuing popularity of Keynesianism in the ranks of the modern socialist left.
"Marx, Keynes and the labour movement

Keynesian economics dominates on the left in the labour movement. Keynes is the economic hero of those wanting to change the world; to end poverty, inequality and continual losses of incomes and jobs in recurrent crises. In the US, the great gurus of opposition to the neoliberal theories of Chicago school of economics and the policies of Republican politicians are Keynesians.

In the UK, the leftish leaders of the Labour party around Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, self-proclaimed socialists, look to Keynesian economists for their policy ideas and analysis. They bring them onto their advisory councils and seminars.

Those graduate students and lecturers involved in Rethinking Economics, an international attempt to change the teaching and ideas away from neoclassical theory, are led by Keynesian authors like James Kwak or post-Keynesians like Steve Keen, or Victoria Chick or Frances Coppola. Here the idea that inequality is the enemy, not capitalism as such, dominates the media and the labour movement. This is not to deny the ugly importance of rising inequality, but to show that a Marxist view on this does not circulate.

So why do Keynesian ideas continue to dominate? Geoff Mann provides us with an insightful explanation. In a new book, entitled In the Long Run We are all Dead, Mann reckons it is not that Keynesian economics is seen as correct. There have been "powerful Left critiques of Keynesian economics from which to draw; examples include the work of Paul Mattick, Geoff Pilling and Michael Roberts", but Keynesian ideas dominate the labour movement and among those opposed to what Mann calls 'liberal capitalism' for political reasons.

Keynes rules because he offers a third way between socialist revolution, and barbarism, i.e. the end of civilisation as we (actually the bourgeois like Keynes) know it. In the 1920s and 1930s, Keynes feared that the `civilised world' faced Marxist revolution or fascist dictatorship. But socialism as an alternative to the capitalism of the Great Depression could well bring down 'civilisation', delivering instead 'barbarism' - the end of a better world, the collapse of technology and the rule of law, more wars etc. So he aimed to offer the hope that, through some modest fixing of 'liberal capitalism', it would be possible to make capitalism work without the need for socialist revolution. There would be no need to go where the angels of 'civilisation' fear to tread. That was Keynes' narrative.

This appealed (and still appeals) to the leaders of the labour movement and 'liberals' wanting change. Revolution was too risky and we could all go down with it. Mann: "the Left wants democracy without populism, it wants transformational politics without the risks of transformation; wants revolution without revolutionaries". This fear of revolution, Mann reckons, was first exhibited after the French revolution. That great experiment in bourgeois democracy turned into Robespierre and the terror; democracy turned into dictatorship and barbarism — or so the bourgeois myth goes.

Keynesian economics offers a way out of the 1930s depression or the Long Depression now without socialism. It is the third way between the status quo of rapacious markets, austerity, inequality, poverty and crises and the alternative of social revolution that may lead to Stalin, Mao, Castro, Pol Pot and Kim Jong-Un.

It is such an attractive 'third way' that Mann professes that it even appeals to him as an alternative to the risk that revolution will go wrong (see his last chapter, where Marx is portrayed as the Dr Jekyll of Hope and Keynes as the Mr Hyde of Fear).

As Mann puts it, Keynes reckoned that, if civilised experts (like himself) dealt with the short-run problems of economic crisis and slump, then the long-run disaster of the loss of civilisation could be avoided. The famous quote that makes the title of Mann's book, that 'in the long run we are all dead, was about the need to act on the Great Depression with government intervention and not wait for the market to right itself over time, as the neoclassical (`classical' Keynes called it) economists and politicians thought.

For "this long run is a misleading guide to current affairs. In the long run we are all dead. Economists set themselves too easy, too useless a task if in tempestuous seasons they can only tell us that when the storm is long past, the ocean is flat again" (Keynes). You need to act on the short term problem or it will become a long-term disaster. This is the extra meaning of the long run quote: deal with depression and economic crises now or civilisation itself will come under threat from revolution in the long run.


Like all bourgeois intellectuals, Keynes was an idealist. He knew that ideas only took hold if they conformed to the wishes of the ruling elite. As he put it, "Individualism and laissez-faire could not, in spite of their deep roots in the political and moral philosophies of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, have secured their lasting hold over the conduct of public affairs, if it had not been for their conformity with the needs and wishes of the business world of the day...These many elements have contributed to the current intellectual bias, the mental make-up, the orthodoxy of the day.". Yet he still really believed that a clever man like him with forceful ideas could change society even it was against the interests of those who controlled it.

The wrongness of that idea was brought home to him in his attempts to get the Roosevelt administration to adopt his ideas on ending the Great Depression and for the political elite to implement his ideas for a new world order after the world war.

He wanted to set up 'civilised' institutions to ensure peace and prosperity globally through international management of economies, currencies and money. But these ideas of a world order to control the excesses of unbridled laissez-faire capitalism were turned into institutions like the IMF, World Bank and the UN Council, used to promote the policies of imperialism, led by America.

Instead of a world of 'civilised' leaders sorting out the problems of the world we got a terrible eagle astride the globe, imposing its will. Material interests decide policies, not clever economists. "

Michael Roberts has the strengths and weaknesses of an orthodox Marxist. I lay stress on the word orthodox here. He dismisses Keynes, along with the other critics he considers, because in no case do they propose socialist revolution to deal with the ills of capitalism (as he portrays them).

Roberts's critiques seem wholly compelling: the crises in capitalist reproduction are indeed crises of profitability (and not lack of effective demand, as Keynes claims), yet the brutal methods (devaluation of capital, lowering of wages) required to restore profitability within the framework of capitalism are not at all congenial to well-meaning economists or politicians seeking votes. Yet when executed by the impersonal forces of the crisis itself, they do work.

Roberts would prefer less callous, less cyclical pathways to growth. That's why he's a socialist. Yet he has no model for socialism, no hint as to how the overwhelming motivational and coordination issues of a global economy can be addressed in a manner superior to capitalism. There's just the blind faith that somehow the organised proletariat can do the job.

No political proposition with such a 'manifesto' has a prayer of being taken seriously and in his heart of hearts, Roberts knows it. Hence the ritualistic quality of his denunciations. Yet this selective myopia does neither him nor his book any favours.

And before uncritically lauding the (capitalist-driven) post-1980 successes of China and denouncing the (capitalism-blamed) stagnation of the third world he might try to emulate the bravery of bourgeois economist Garett Jones and absorb this.

But of course I have no serious expectations.


I recently wrote about Steve Keen and Corbyn. I plan to work my two posts so far about Marx 200 into an Amazon review over the next few days.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Flies and Rudyard Kipling

Last Tuesday our tour of the southeast found us at Rudyard Kipling's house: Bateman's.

We finally ate in the garden with the metal-grill tables - to which they were seemingly averse.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

"Postmodernism" by Christopher Butler (2002)

Amazon link

Christopher Butler, who retired as Professor of English at Oxford University in 2008, is not a postmodernist. So this book is a classical liberal take on the whole sorry phenomenon. One thing he does not attempt is a sociological analysis as to how a doctrine so firmly anchored in total cultural relativism, philosophical idealism and textual reductionism became so culturally hegemonic (see here).

One thing that does become clear, however, is the extent to which postmodernism continues to provide the (rather shallow) foundations of the whole SJW movement and cultural-left politics in general.

Postmodernism's general silliness is most transparent when applied to natural sciences and mathematics, areas where commitment to the idea of a shared, depersonalised and asocial substrate is a precondition for practice.

From page 40.
"For example, Jean Baudrillard claims that in the Gulf War 'the space of the event has become a hyperspace with multiple refractivity and the space of war has become definitively non-Euclidean'.

Sokal and Briernont comment on this that the concept of 'hyperspace' offered here simply 'does not exist in either mathematics or physics' and that it makes no sense to ask what a Euclidean space of war would be like, let alone to hypothesize the kind of space which Baudrillard has just 'invented' through his misunderstanding and misuse of scientific terminology. "
Baudrillard's text would have been unremarkable as a piece of metaphorical (and somewhat hyperbolic!) literary commentary, but he intended so much more.

And from page 41.
"For example, there is a much referred to article by the anthropologist Emily Martin on 'The Egg and the Sperm', which argues that 'the picture of egg and sperm drawn in popular as well as scientific accounts of reproductive biology relies on stereotypes central to our cultural definitions of male and female'.

'The stereotypes imply not only that female biological processes are less worthy than their male counterparts but also that women are less worthy than men'. In such literature, it is asserted, we have a 'passive', 'coy damsel' female egg, versus the 'active', 'macho' male sperm, and it does indeed seem that some textbook accounts do employ this tendentious imagery.

But there is more to it than this. Patriarchal scientists are supposed by their postmodernist critics to have inevitably, given their subjective and politically contaminated presuppositions, got the science of this relationship wrong. For it is now believed that the (female) egg actively 'grabs the (male) sperm' (which has swum a long way before this happens).

But did male ideological presuppositions about male superiority and aggression as a matter of fact hold up or block the new view? Does it make sense, as an account of scientific activity, to say that any such presuppositions could have produced this particular hold up?

(This is not to deny that male preoccupations have indeed held up the proper investigation of female physiology.)

There are two issues here. One is the metaphorical resonance that various accounts of the egg and sperm have in relationship to gender stereotypes - for example, Scott Gilbert builds on this to write (vulgarly) about 'fertilisation as a kind of martial gang-rape' - 'the egg is a whore attracting the soldiers like a magnet', and so on.

But this resonance is in any case a gross exaggeration: no such phrases actually appear in the serious scientific literature on this subject.

All of this metaphorical interpretation, typical though it is of postmodernist concerns, seems to me relatively trivial and silly, and doesn't have far to go, because anyone who wanted to generalize either view of sperm and egg relations to justify or explain the nature of any larger-scale male-female interactions would surely be expressing a ludicrous essentialism - 'it's been like that from the sperm and egg on'.

This sort of thing rather misses the point about the potential for adjustment in male-female relations; but it also makes a much more damaging second implication about science - that there was a failure of objectivity here, and that the 'new' discovery corrected a masculinist bias in scientific work.

But, as Paul Gross shows, it is quite false to claim that male scientists had ignored the active role of the female egg until prodded into admitting it by feminists. It had been pointed out by Just in 1919 (also citing a paper of 1878) that the egg 'pulls in' or 'engulfs' the sperm. And this view was common, says Gross, in textbooks from 1920 onwards. "
I very much enjoyed this book, which repays close reading, but also despaired at the idiocy which walks amongst us.

"The Limits to Capital" by David Harvey (2007)

Amazon link

Who is David Harvey? Michael Roberts explains on his blog:
"Just in case you are unaware (difficult to believe), Professor Harvey is probably the most eminent Marxist scholar alive today with a host of books, papers and educational videos to his name on Marxist economic theory."
To properly assess this 450 page book, which combines a sophisticated review of Marxist theory together with its detailed application to today's global economy, would be the labour of many hours. Please forgive a much more superficial review here.

First of all, the book is a rather dry read. While not quite a textbook, it demands sustained concentration and one returns to it more out of duty than pleasure. However, once engaged it is full of insights (I had a similar experience with David Reich's book).

This would not be your first choice if you knew nothing about Marxism. For that, you need an introduction. The great thing about Harvey's overview is that he never just regurgitates the sacred texts. You always see a questing intelligence, picking apart Marx's analytic categories and examples, working to understand them from a contemporary perspective. His insights are invariably fresh and thought-provoking.

Harvey is a geographer, a student of spatial and temporal development. As capitalism develops unevenly within regions, countries and globally, one would have thought that Marxists would have explored in depth the interaction between abstract economic categories and geography, but Harvey seems to break new ground towards the end of the book. Yet I sometimes wondered whether his results were that surprising - often pages went by when I thought the new idea could have been better expressed in a single paragraph.

Why do we bother with Marxism? Because we have a healthy skepticism about elite social science. In no mode of production have the elites come clean about the basis of their structural good fortune: capitalism is no different. Only the Marxist tradition 'tells it like it is'.

Yet here Harvey's moralism grates. The idea is to understand the nature and dynamics of the capitalist mode of production, not to ritualistically denounce it in aggrieved tones and lobby emptily for a 'more rational' mode of production based on wishful thinking. Harvey has never convincingly explained how the complex motivational and coordination problems which capitalism addresses pretty successfully could be better handled by a traditionally-conceived socialism - while we have plenty of evidence to the contrary.

And then there are the lacunae. Marx may have said "always doubt" but although Harvey may be the least dogmatic of contemporary Marxist thinkers, he's not prepared to break with blank slate accounts of gender or ethnic differences. Even the impeccably liberal David Reich is ahead of him on this. No wonder he can't seem to see a way towards a Marxist account of the family or, for example, third world underdevelopment.

Despites its selective myopia and unengaging style, there is still a great deal to get out of this book. I was glad to read it, and glad to finish it.

"The City & The City" on TV: (episode 3)

Amazon link

This penultimate episode was better. The series still feels more constricted than necessary (should have been six episodes!) but we're beginning to see the wood for the trees.

About episode 2 I said, " Borlú  is a grumpy, slightly sleazy ESTJ headmaster who could never have pulled his liberal, idealistic ENFJ wife." In this episode the dynamics of a failing marriage are more clearly portrayed: Borlú in his mundane sensor way worships his fey and fragile wife; she, on the other hand, sees him as a clodhopping bear whose unimaginative stolidity imprisons her free spirit.

Could it really have lasted two years?

Isabel Briggs Myers noted ("Gifts Differing") that as you ascend the social scale the proportion of Idealists/liberals (NFs) and Rationals/intellectuals (NTs) increases. This is plainly due to the IQ correlation with N:  a capacity for abstraction is an entry ticket for elite participation with heart-on-sleeve Idealism more prevalent in the arts and media.

Watching ESTJ Borlú blundering his way around as lead character is therefore a bit of a novelty. But the fact that many viewers may find him as irritating as does his wife Katrynia doesn't mean that he's not well acted, or that his personality doesn't fit the role. So I stand corrected, a little.

Borlú's Ul Qoman counterpart, Senior Detective Dhatt, (a more sympathetic figure) was revealed last night to be in a lesbian relationship with a less 'policey' partner - but both are SJs so their prospects are good.

So where do we stand now? The evil American corporation has come into the picture, spouting its vacuous homilies about 'learning from the noble inhabitants of the third world' (very well done, the very lightest touch) while Borlú's Guardian protective instinct for 'his people' has finally and irrevocably clashed with his Guardian respect for the principle that you shall not Breach.

The denouement is next Friday.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Having military skills is not exactly a predicate

In this recent post I looked at Prince Henry, a medieval warrior ruling a hermit kingdom who had the misfortune to be discovered - and fall out with - the Russians. Prince Henry's armoured cavalry did not fare well against Russian gunships, artillery, tanks and spetsnaz troops.

So did Prince Henry have military skills .. or not?


This question masquerades as a property question. If we had asked whether Henry had red hair, we could define a predicate
which would have the boolean value true or false. Similarly, it seems we are asking for the truth-value of the predicate:
but that isn't right, because it doesn't capture the environmental context.

Instead we should write:
λx.has-military-skills(henry, x),
a boolean-valued function with dummy variable x which needs to be bound to a specific opponent before a truth value can be assigned. So
λx.has-military-skills(henry, x)(knight) = has-military-skills(henry, knight)
which evaluates to true.
λx.has-military-skills(henry, x)(russians) = has-military-skills(henry, russians)
which turns out to be false.


This is the approach Richard Montague took in his natural language semantics.

Diary: our National Trust tour of the southeast

The sudden intrusion of the English summer into April emboldened us to roam nomadically through the English southeast sampling from the National Trust.

I have two observations:
Off the main routes, councils have simply abandoned dealing with potholes (our next car will have to be a third-world capable 4x4).

You thought the National Trust was just for the svelte middle-class? Every other person I saw was waddling rather than walking.


Petworth House and Park

Scotney House (video below for more atmosphere)

Scotney Castle, an ancient fortified house trashed into a 19th century folly

Clare at the Cherry Tree Inn, Ticehurst
- the food was standard pub fare

A literary column at the far superior Bell, Ticehurst

Amberley Museum and Heritage Centre, West Sussex

Bognor Regis at the turn of the tide, 2.15 pm

We finished up staying at the excellent Three Lions in the New Forest


Scotney House and Gardens on the hottest April day for 70 years

Thursday, April 19, 2018

In case of emergency follow the SP

Amazon link

From page 85:
"A meeting was taking place at a U.S. embassy in Africa. Present at the meeting were several NFs, NTs, and SJs, and a solitary SP. At one point an embassy official walked in the room and calmly notified the group that a bomb threat had been made against the embassy and that they must clear the building.

  • The NFs dashed to the phone to call their families to let them know that everything was all right and not to worry.

  • The NTs started debating with one another the effectiveness of embassy bombing, the practice of phoning in bomb threats, and the role each plays in the efforts of international terrorism - a discussion that continued throughout the afternoon at the café across the street.

  • The SJs automatically went to the corner of the room and pulled out an official manual to determine the standard operating procedure for dealing with bomb threats.

  • The one SP, within moments, was in the hallway, directing traffic, answering questions, and getting her colleagues out of harm's way. "
In emergencies, it's the SP you want (Donald Trump is an ESTP btw - emotional haranguing of Trump invariably reflects an underlying type-conflict as experienced by the accuser).

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Equality of gender-outcome: a typological view

Amazon link

From p. 108:
"As we said, certain types are naturally prone to rise to the top of most companies. Traits such as objectivity, punctuality, and accountability are qualities that support productivity and profit. As such, those types sharing Thinking and Judging are naturally promoted, and other types tend to be scarcer the higher up you go.

Though any one of the sixteen types can and does make it to the executive level, those not sharing T and J are the exception, not the rule. It took us ten years of collecting typological data on top managers before we found executives representing all sixteen types. At the executive level upward of 90 percent are Thinking-Judgers.

As a result of all this, we can predict three things about the typological makeup of the higher echelons of the workplace:

  • As long as management is predominantly TJ, women are statistically destined to be in the minority; there are simply fewer T women in the population.

  • Most of the women achieving top-level positions will look typologically like their male counterparts. More than likely they will be TJs.

  • The few Feeling-Perceptive types who make it to the top typically do so for one of two reasons: simply to prove to themselves that they can do it or because they have a missionary zeal to change the organization. The FPs got there not because the system accepted them so much as because of their ability to play the TJ game. While at the top the idealists do have some impact, but as soon as they leave, their programs are often obliterated with the sweep of a pen.
Therefore, diversity in the executive circles of any organization is fleeting and over the long term has low impact on organizational effectiveness."
The failures of equality of gender-outcome in business and government are often explained as the statistical effect of women taking leave to raise children. But the underlying personality differences between men and women are less often remarked upon. This will come as little surprise, except to the NFs amongst you.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Michael Roberts: Total Automation under Capitalism

Michael Roberts has a new book out:

Amazon link

Here is what he has to say about the impact of total automation on capitalism (pages 137-141).
"What does this all mean if we enter the extreme (science fiction?) future where robotic technology and AI leads to robots making robots AND robots extracting raw materials and making everything AND carrying out all personal and public services so that human labour is no longer required for ANY task of production at all?

Let's imagine a totally automated process where no human worked in the production process. Surely, value has been added by the conversion of raw materials into goods without humans? Surely, that refutes Marx's claim that only human labour can create value?

In Marx's economic theory, abstract labour is the only source of value and surplus-value. However, in the case of an economy where robots build robots build robots and there is no human labour involved, surely value is still created?

This was the argument of Dmitriev in 1898, in his critique of Marx's value theory. He said that, in a fully automated system, a certain input of machines can create a greater output of machines (or of other commodities). In this case, profit and the rate of profit would be determined exclusively by the technology used (productivity) and not by (abstract) labour. If 10 machines produce 12 machines, the profit is 2 machines and the rate of profit is 2/10, 20%.

Value reduced to use value has nothing to do with Marx's notion of value, which is the monetary expression of abstract labour expended by labourers. If machines could create 'value', this value would be use-value rather than value as the outcome of humans' abstract labour. But, if machines can create 'value', so can an infinity of other factors (animals, the forces of nature, sunspots, etc.) and the determination of value becomes impossible. And if machines supposedly could transfer their use-value to the product, this would immediately crash against the problem of the aggregation of different use-values.

For Marx, machines do not create value. Rather, concrete labour transfers the value of the machines (and, more generally, of the means of production) to the product. They increase human productivity and thus the output per unit of capital invested, while decreasing the quantity of living labour needed for the production of a certain output. Given that only labour creates value, the substitution of the means of production for living labour decreases the quantity of value created per unit of capital invested. ...

The Dmitriev critique confuses the dual nature of value under capitalism: use value and exchange value. There is use value (things and services that people need); and exchange value (the value measured in labour time and appropriated from human labour by the owners of capital and realised by sale on the market). In every commodity under the capitalist mode of production, there is both use value and exchange value. You can't have one without the other under capitalism. But the latter rules the capitalist investment and production process, not the former.

Value (as defined) is specific to capitalism. Sure, living labour can create things and do services (use values). But value is the substance of the capitalist mode of producing things. Capital (the owners) controls the means of production created by labour and will only put them to use in order to appropriate value created by labour. Capital does not create value itself.  So in our hypothetical all-encompassing robot/AI world, productivity (of use values) would tend to infinity while profitability (surplus value to capital value) would tend to zero. ...

This is no longer capitalism. The analogy is more with a slave economy as in ancient Rome. In ancient Rome, over hundreds of years, the formerly predominantly small-holding peasant economy was replaced by slaves in mining, farming and all sorts of other tasks. This happened because the booty of the successful wars that the Roman republic and empire conducted included a mass supply of slave labour.

The cost to the slave owners of these slaves was incredibly cheap (to begin with) compared with employing free labour. The slave owners drove the farmers off their land through a combination of debt demands, requisition in wars and sheer violence. The former peasants and their families were forced into slavery themselves or into the cities, where they scraped a living with menial tasks and skills or begged. The class struggle did not end. The struggle was between the slave-owning aristocrats and the slaves and between the aristocrats and the atomised plebs in the cities.

A fully robot economy means that the owners of the means of production (robots) would have a super-abundant economy of things and services at zero cost (robots making robots making robots). The owners can then just consume. They don't need to make 'profit', just as the aristocrat slave owners in Rome just consumed and did not run businesses to sell commodities to make a profit. So a robotic economy could mean a super-abundant world for all or it could mean a new form of slave society with extreme inequality of wealth and income. It's a social 'choice' or more accurately, it depends of the outcome of the class struggle under capitalism.

The key issue is Marx's law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. A rising organic composition of capital leads to a fall in the overall rate of profit engendering recurring crises. If robots and AI do replace human labour at an accelerating rate, that can only intensify that tendency. Well before we get to a robot-all world, capitalism will experience ever-increasing periods of crises and stagnation."
Everything Roberts says here is orthodox Marxist economics and yet there is something missing: the use of the abstract concepts of Marx's theory to reconstruct the concrete phenomena, to discern the details of the actual transition to 'a robot-all world'.

Marx was not a vitalist. He did not think that human protoplasm endowed human labour with some mysterious value-producing quality that mere steel and electronics could never replicate. So what if human workers were everywhere replaced by fabricated androids who also toiled in the factories, were paid wages and consumed ersatz food? Does capitalism still work? [Answer: of course].

If one particular capitalist creates a totally automated factory (or one using purely slave labour which is - in Marxist terms - the same thing) is that incompatible with capitalism? [Answer: of course not].

As more and more capitalists automate their factories, displacing human labour, what is the process which unfolds before them and why? How do they perceive the capitalist economy failing before their eyes?

Or will they rather observe, as Peter Singer writes in his book on Marx: ‘Future capitalists will not find their profits drying up as they dismiss the last workers from their newly-automated factories’ (p. 76).

I outlined some answers here.

"The City & The City" disappoints (episode 2)

Amazon link

My earlier hopes for "The City & The City" have been confounded. China Miéville's novel gets its power from its setting: the interpenetrating cities unsettle and remould all social relationships. Miéville then overlaid a police procedural to explore this subversion of everyday life.

The TV series, constrained by four episodes, has put the low-key and inert plot centre stage. The setting now has little to contribute beyond needless complexity while the characters mechanically deploy like chess pieces to push things along. The result: actions and motivations aren't authentic while characters are shallow and unconvincing. Corwi is played as an implausible one-dimensional buffoon while Borlú  is a grumpy, slightly sleazy ESTJ headmaster who could never have pulled his liberal, idealistic ENFJ wife.

I wish I could make a deeper ideological critique of the series, link it to crass political-correctness or SJW shibboleths. But it's just that the TV adaptors haven't allocated enough time, have failed to create that deep immersion in the Besźel/Ul Qoma duality which was the point of China Miéville's work.


Episode 3 review.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Spring at the Bishop's Palace in Wells

The first warm day of the year.

Clare climbs the newly-opened Prison Bastion at the Bishop's Palace

The moat at the Bishop's palace

Wells Cathedral from the Bishop's Palace wall

We walked around the Palace in our jumpers, coats left at home. The sun shone. Felt like they'd terraformed Wells.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Diary: Rocky Mountain Nurseries

The car went in for its annual service and MOT this morning. We had moved to this garage because we thought they did a better job than our previous choice, although how can you tell?

Like those restaurants which pride themselves on being rude to their customers, the staff here used to be rather surly, resenting conversation with effete customers who (they sensed) wouldn't know which end of the torque wrench to apply to the wheel nuts. But over the last couple of years they've mellowed, developing customer-facing skills. Reception now has a coffee machine, and they smile as they offer the card reader.


Next was the Rocky Mountain Nurseries, which Clare vaguely thought was off the Old Frome Road somewhere. It looked astonishingly dilapidated as we eventually drew up.

Clare had received a voucher card for £25. She experiences the same frisson of excitement at garden centres as I encounter in bookshops: Rocky Mountain did not disappoint. It's remote, on the Mendip plateau where land is cheap, but the car park was full. A vast expanse of potted plants, ferns and hangar-like polytunnels beckoned: a foraging heaven.

In the end she chose four plants. We staggered under their weight between plots and outbuildings, searching for someone with a cash register. Turned out they didn't take those particular gift cards after all.

Still, one door closes .. .

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Life in a genetic meritocracy

Note: you may find the text below rather boring, but due to continuing migration and population movements on a global scale the situation described is becoming more prevalent, not less.


Expulsion of the Uganda Asians (Indians)

From the BBC (an interview with Toby Young).
"According to the political scientist Charles Murray, meritocracy inevitably leads to a genetically-based caste system. Why? Because the traits selected for by the meritocratic sorting principle are genetically-based and, as such, likely to be passed on from parents to their children.

Genetic variation means some highly able children will be born to people of average and below average intelligence, but the children of the meritocratic elite will, in aggregate, always have a competitive advantage and over several generations that leads to social ossification."
Capitalism, unlike previous more traditionalist modes of production, is strongly meritocratic. Those able to function at senior levels in industry, finance, the military, government and academia are inevitably highly educated and comfortable with abstractions. Charles Murray was worried about assortative mating amongst elites, which has been facilitated by the expansion in university places. But the situation, globally, is more complex than that.


Refer to Garett Jones's table of National IQs, mentioned in my previous post. Whether through colonialism, general population movements or targeted immigration, it's perfectly possible for people from a cognitively-advantaged country to find themselves a minority in a country where the majority fare markedly less well. Chinese minorities in Southeast Asia and the 'Ugandan Asians' (who were from India) are cases in point.

Such talented minorities, culturally distinct from the majority, tend meritocratically to rise.* While this does work its meritocratic magic when things are going well, it has downsides when the country runs into trouble, as economies invariably do.


How does it feel to be a member of a genetic elite? I can only imagine. There must be the sense of social solidarity with your cultural fellows, plus a vague sense of disquiet directed towards the non-elite majority. Some of that majority will be as accomplished as your group, but few. Most will be less able (although you will want to affirm their capabilities).

How does it feel to be a member of the somewhat-disadvantaged majority? Again, I can only speculate. Most of the time it won't be much on your mind. In any event, such reflections will not be a welcome feature of the zeitgeist.


Now is a time when the interests of elites and the masses are perceived to be diverging across the world. It's when class conflict becomes enmeshed with ethnic identifications that we should start getting a little concerned. In Uganda things did not go well:
Before the expulsion, Asians owned many large businesses in Uganda but the purge of Asians from Uganda's economy was virtually total. In total, some 5,655 firms, ranches, farms, and agricultural estates were reallocated, along with cars, homes and other household goods.

For political reasons, most (5,443) were reallocated to individuals, with 176 going to government bodies, 33 being reallocated to semi-state organisations and 2 going to charities. Possibly the biggest winner was the state-owned Uganda Development Corporation, which gained control over some of the largest enterprises, though both the rapid nature of the growth and the sudden lack of experienced technicians and managers proved a challenge for the corporation, resulting in a restructuring in 1974-5.

"The Ugandan economy fell deep into a crisis under the strain of civil wars, the nationalization of certain industries and the expulsion of the Asians.. . By 1987, President Yoweri Museveni had inherited an economy that suffered the poorest growth rate in Africa."
Meritocracy normally works well, despite its critics. When times get hard, not so much.


* A worked example

From the standardised normal distribution, the percentage of a population more than 1 standard deviation above the mean is 16%, more than 2σ is 2.3% and more than 3σ is 0.13%.

Take a hypothetical population A with the European norm of 100 (standard deviation 15) and a distinct group B representing 0.5% of the population who have a mean IQ one standard deviation up, ie 115.

Assume that elite IQ is three standard deviations above majority-average: a member of the top elite will have an IQ in excess of 145. What is the expected ratio of people from A and B in the elite?

Suppose the population size of A is 20 million so that the population size of B is (at 0.5%) 100,000.

We know that 0.13% of population A (3σ) will make it into the elite (assuming pure meritocracy) contributing 26,000 people.

Population B will have 2.3% (2σ) of its members in the elite; this is 2,300 people.

So the elite ratio A:B is 11:1, a fair distance from the 200:1 overall population ratio.

Stratification will be more intense if population B clusters in certain sectors where they historically specialise, as the Ugandan Asians did in commerce.



Consider four standard deviations above majority-average, an IQ of 160+.  The area under the normal curve above 4σ is 0.003%.

Population A contributes 600 people with this elevated score; population B provides 130 people. The A:B ratio is now around 5:1. Perhaps the really top elite does consist of under a thousand people in a medium-sized country, so the expected ratio is perhaps not too unrealistic.

National IQs - from "Hive Mind"

Amazon link

This is a reference post. The data below is taken from the "Data Appendix" in "Hive Mind" by Garett Jones, which I reviewed here. Click on the images below to make larger.

"Notes: The middle column reports the Rindermann, Sailer, Thompson cognitive ability (CA) scores estimated from the international tests the PISA, the TIMSS, and the PIRLS. The right-hand column reports national average IQ as estimated by Lynn and Meisenberg.

The table only reports data for countries where both estimates are available. Both estimates include data of varying quality; in particular, developing country estimates may be based on small samples or limited numbers of tests and should be treated with caution.

This is a problem that also arises when measuring GDP per person in developing countries, as Morten Jerven's book Poor Numbers documents. Sources: Rindermann, Sailer, and Thompson, "The Impact of Smart Fractions" and Lynn and Meisenberg, "National IQs Calculated." See also Jervens, Poor Numbers. "
The main take-home lesson is that countries differ quite markedly in their average IQ, pretty much as you would expect given their economic and political success or lack of it. Not forgetting that countries are people, not inert geography.

The scores are misleading for countries which are highly stratified ethnically such as Israel, many countries in Latin America and the USA (to some extent). India (not shown) with its castes and jatis is problematic - the concept of national IQ doesn't really apply there at all.

China's average national IQ is generally estimated to be 105, aligned with Taiwan and Japan above.