Quote of the Week: The Law of Unintended Consequences

If you’re not careful when moving the invisible hand, it will smack you in the head.

Gary, if that’s his name.

I find that to be a more poetic phrasing than the standard version, here.

The context is a discussion on a paper that finds that “a successful unionization vote significantly decreases the market value of the company even absent changes in organizational performance” . I’m a little perplexed at the qualifier, though, I would have thought it made more sense without it i.e. lower market value because of worse organizational performance. I spout enough libertarian ideology here that I don’t have to explain my views on unionization, do I? Except to qualify the standard position by saying that they were undoubtedly needed when they were first formed, they simply perform far too few additional benefits when one already has fairly comprehensive worker safety/welfare laws. Perhaps they’re still a necessity in most states of India( although not Kerala, I think).

I know it’s been a while, I just hate using this computer!

Quote of the Week: Everybody Love-Hates Twilight

Including Steven Levitt.

Every single one of the comments on that post essentially say that the books were “terribly engrossing, yet poorly written.”I don’t think I’ve ever seen that level of agreement on any post on Freakonomics before. 🙂

Although my actual quote was(context should be obvious):

It’s good that kids are reading but that’s almost like saying “My kids are eating McDonalds, but hey, the burgers have nutritional lettuce and tomato on them…”

*”Although I will say I was somewhat disappointed with the book, an outside observer would laugh at that description, given that I read it in less than a week. My kids would remind me that I told them they would have to make their own dinner because I had to finish the book to find out whether Bella would turn into a vampire or not. I guess the fact that I ordered the other three books in the series from Amazon also gives me away.”

PS:  I should mention that the book is a literary masterpiece when compared to the movie, which so overwhelmingly SUCKS. I realize that they had to cut it down a bit, but the sparse narrative bits by Kristen Stewart sound totally energy-less, the fact that so little happens and so little is explained from when Bella first meets Edward to when she decides that she can’t possibly live without him makes both of them seem quite crazy, and just as predicted, seeing Edward stare at Bella sleeping is just plain creepy.
Disclaimer: I saw a leaked print taken on a hand cam from a theatre, which had quite abysmal sound and picture quality. That has probably had some impact on my assessment of the movie(bad prints are just irritating, and that irritation generally gets transferred to the movie as well), and although I’ve tried to account for it, I may not have been entirely successful.

And of course, its probably still the bestest movie in the world if you’re a barely teenage girl.

Authority, Obedience and Indoctrination

I think I’m coming off as more and more anarchist in these pages, but I thought this made sense. The extract is from a comment, not from the original post, which spoke about how cops would “like” to police, which as far as I was concerned was simply a listing of various types of police brutailty, the only difference being that they did it to the “bad guys”. Vigilantism, in other words. So if you’re interested, read the post, then scroll down for this comment. The commenter refers to “America”, but you can probably use the same language for any organized society. Even more ours than theirs, I think.

How Cops Really Want to Police – Freakonomics – Opinion – New York Times Blog

I don’t think the primary trouble is with the cops. The cops are made possible by a society with an ethos that the good is simply something that you do because you ‘have to’, because you ought, because you owe it to society, and that all human civilisation rests upon authority and obedience. The parents, the churches, the class structure teach everyone that a person who doesn’t obey the tribe and play its game is a threat to everyone else. The tolerance of police thuggery is but a consequence.

The hideous comments David Houser alluded to show that the essential problem is not internal to police culture- people in the larger society think that you have to keep order, no matter what. They treat their wives and children and employees this way- and even if they are the wives and the children and the employees they probably don’t question the basic view of human beings and society which inevitably leads to people being tasered to make them ‘behave’. They just get upset that someone else is on top (and never mind that when you have this atavistic morality, men of prestige and violence will always come out on top.)

This is the reason it has been impossible to rally ineffective opposition to authoritarianism in America- people don’t object to authoritarianism because they share its mind- even most libertarians and progressives. Here, the libertarians merely obsess that the authority is wielded by the state and not civil society and the most of the left is more concerned with the fact that one group is lording it over another than with the ethos of authority shared by all the groups.

Everyone paying attention knows by now that America has a gulag scale prison system where rape and torture are simple part of the social order. And yet it is impossible to get significant numbers of people to care. Yes, this is because the system continually rewards the type of people that don’t care- but the ‘system’ starts in childhood and doesn’t change much across class lines; even if the oligarchy helped create this kind of culture (and it clearly and consciously did in the last generation and a half), today the oligarchy’s values are shared by the public at large. In fact to a large degree I think the authoritarianism of the American public makes an oligarchy inevitable. If the elite and the cops were to disappear tomorrow, the public would rise up a new elite and a new set of cops as bad as the old ones.

The police conduct the worst and most direct physical brutality, yes. They’re bastards- I’ve certainly [got] myself a few stories. But what makes it possible is all the ‘good Germans’… er, ‘good Americans’- all the nice everday people who teach their kids from day zero to conform and obey if they want to get ahead; who prize ‘getting ahead’ (and ‘getting along’) more than integrity or happiness; who believe that we have to stuff our humanity down deep if we’re to be civil to everyone else and hide miserable nastiness under suffocating demands for public neatness and politeness.

The dominant cultures in America take it as common sense that rights are mainly the property of ‘good citizens’, which primarily means those people who are best at showing their compliance to others. American meritocracy has become a system which is ‘individualist’ only in the sense that it expects people to ruthless compete with each other to see who is best at conforming and obeying, and in the sense that the most idiotic forms to personal gratification are available to those who win the bloody game well enough.

People can’t complain about police abuses because they share the premises of the police. When people revere the inner policeman in their hearts (or the big one in the sky) as the most necessary part of their souls, they will never be effective at combating even gross and obvious police brutality because they share the mindset that causes it and only object to the last consequence of visible violence and blood. Patriarchs who believe women should keep in their place can’t stop wife-beating even when they genuinely believe in paternalism without violence. The ‘good patriarchs’ endlessly blame the ‘bad patriarchs’ and never get that the difference between the two is merely one of degree and circumstance. And unfortunately in patriarchy most of the wives feel the same way (they’ve been brought up with the same values, and survive to the degree they adopt them), and their absolutely just complaints about their own oppression too often translate merely into more demands for resources to put down the bad patriarchs without any challenge to the system. American police statism is simply the bad patriarch of a generally authoritarian culture.

The average German in Hitler’s time probably didn’t want to murder Jews, but shared a warped view of society, ethics, and history which caused them to see Jews as a ‘problem’. Similarly, the average American today probably doesn’t believe that gays, social deviants, drug users, poor people, or whatever should be treated in the way they are. But they don’t do anything to stop it because they do basically feel that such people aren’t being good and behaving as they ‘ought to’ (and ‘ought to’ no matter what was done to them or what real chance they have to do anything else). They don’t believe gay men should be bashed but do believe gay men are a threat to others, or at least bad people for being themselves at the ‘expense’ of others’ conventions. They believe that poor people must be bad if they didn’t succeed because they take for granted a respect for the virtues which result in success in a heirarchical society. It’s all just parents beating on children in the sincere (and of course also ideological) belief that they are performing the most necessity of social duties and defending good by beating down the bad.

The good Americans abhor the means but share the ends, and no matter how obvious it becomes that the ends necessitate the means they won’t give up on them because their bedrock sense of morality and personal identity makes these ends the unchallengable basics of civilised life. If you believe that civilisation depends on everyone working hard in order to be rewarded for serving the group you will not be able to prevent thugs from coming to power on the promise that they will make everyone do what they ought to do anyway. It’s not the thugs that did it. It’s the non-thugs who falsely believe that the thug’s virtues are responsible for everything good and true in this world.

Nothing can change the direction of the political system as long as these values pervade a culture. Most attempts to prevent the disaster include in themselves the worldview which causes it, and those that do not simply have no traction and appeal with mainstream society because they implicitly or explicitly contradict its basic understandings. We now have a homo Americanus to match homo Sovieticus- a new competitive, commercial, it’s-all-your-fault, ‘devil-take-the-hindmost’ variety of collectivist soul.

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Happiness and the Political Spectrum

US Centric like most of the data anywhere on the net, but worth reading nonetheless.

Conservatives Are Happier Than Liberals. Discuss. – Freakonomics – Opinion – New York Times Blog

• In 2004, 44 percent of respondents who said they were “conservative” or “very conservative” said they were “very happy,” versus just 25 percent of people who called themselves “liberal” or “very liberal.” (Note that this comparison uses unweighted data — when the data are weighted, the gap is 46 percent to 28 percent.)

• Adults on the political right are only half as likely as those on the left to say, “At times, I think I am no good at all.” They are also less likely to say they are dissatisfied with themselves, that they are inclined to feel like a failure, or to be pessimistic about their futures.

• It doesn’t matter who holds political power. The happiness gap between conservatives and liberals has persisted for at least 30 years. Indeed, the difference was greater some years under Bill Clinton than it was under George W. Bush. Democrats may very well win the presidency in 2008, and no doubt many liberals will enjoy seeing conservatives grieving out about that — but the data say that conservatives will still be happier people than liberals.

Several obvious reasons for the correlation spring to mind… conservatives tend to be richer and more successful socially (the obvious reason for that being, liberal economics stress graded taxes which place disproportionate burden on the rich;which is why, as a libertarian I’m “conservative” on most economic issues. However, there are a lot of studies that say the opposite,too, by considering the “social” liberals purely as liberals) and it’s fairly accepted that increased wealth /standard of living makes you happier. Then again, as one commenter mentioned, ignorance is bliss, and conservatives have a lower average IQ than liberals(its true, look it up! Also the surprisingly large gap between believers and atheists…at least in countries where they don’t force you to be an atheist, like China and the erstwhile USSR.) Another interesting take:

Interesting topic. Without delving into it too much, I would say conversatives have more reason to SAY they are happy, not that they ARE happy. If we assume most conservatives are also Christians, it is seen as bad form for a Christian to not be happy. On the other hand, liberals are honest enough to admit that things could be better.


My first thought is that by definition a conservative is someone who resists changes to the status quo. If they’d rather stick with the current system, then they must be at least satisfied with it, if not happy. Conversely, a progressive or liberal, is typically a view point where they are dissatisfied with the status quo, and would like some kind of change. So a study on happiness of the two view points seems like it does nothing more than confirms the general definition.

which also seems to make sense.Similarly,

Perhaps conservatives are more likely to believe that their path is self-made and a result of their own efforts, and therefore more likely to be happy with the results, whereas liberals tend to believe that society/government should be taking care of their needs/wants and therefore they’ve been “screwed over” and tend to be less happy?

and sadly enough, I concede the point.

I would like to see a correlation between levels of happiness and the political distribution along the
Nolan chart, which sees politics in 2 dimensions rather than 1 dimension. If anyone bothered to go through that Wikipedia entry on libertarianism, this is the standard chart that plots conservative and liberal viewpoints on 2 axes, social and economic. I think it would make a considerable difference if you found the marginal distribution from that rather than from the more direct survey. Also, something that tests happiness based on something other than self-reporting, to make sure you’re measuring real (as opposed to forced) happiness.

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