Solving the Student Loan/Debt Crisis: A Plan That Can Work

On sites like Reddit, 4chan, and College Confidential, stories of college graduates saddled with piles of debt and poor job prospects, are becoming commonplace:

Many on the ‘left’ (and I say ‘left’ because it’s mainly democrats who raise this issue) complain about student loan debt being too high, as well as poor job prospects for new graduates, who are either unable to find a job, or if they get a job, the job isn’t commensurate with their credentials (for example, anthropology majors waiting tables).

But what if there were a way to break the student loan debt cycle, or at least put a dent in it.

As I said before, the higher education system is broken, due to ‘good intentions’ gone wrong, and many entities shoulder the blame: students, politicians, guidance counselors, culture and society, and parents.

In the case of high school graduates, they have one of three options:

- skip college and enter the workforce
- go to college and major in a liberal arts subject
- major in STEM

The first choice results in no debt but also the worst job prospects of all. The second may result in a lot of debt and mediocre job prospects. The third choice may also result in debt but also has the best job prospects. As a caveat, those who graduate from elite colleges can typically major in anything and still have decent job prospects, but they are of the minority. Most students are aware that STEM pays more and has better job opportunities, but they choose the liberal arts anyway. That’s their choice, but they should not be surprised if they are unable to find good job afterwards – they were warned.

Most graduates (such as the example from Reddit above) are reasonably intelligent. According to research by Charles Murray, the typical college graduate has an IQ of around 115, which is one standard deviation above average. Thus to some extent a college degree (even for non-STEM majors) signals above-average intelligence, which could explain why many employers, particularly for higher-paying jobs, require a college degree, or ceteris paribus will choose a candidate who has a degree over one who doesn’t. Studies have shown that IQ and job performance are correlated, probably because smarter employees learn faster and are better able to anticipate the needs of customers and their employers.

Another issue is debt. Working as a barista for Starbucks may suck, but it’s even worse if you have a lot of debt. There’s no reason why anyone should have to spend tens of thousands of dollars (or even hundreds of thousands), and four to seven years of their life, to get a piece of paper that signals ‘merely above-average intelligence’. Worse yet, most jobs are completely unrelated to the degree. Very few literature, anthropology, and history majors actually get jobs pertaining to literature, anthropology, or history.

Grade inflation and credentalism are related. Because of grade inflation, increasingly advanced degrees are required signal competence and ‘stand out’:

This means more debt and more years of college to acquire these advanced degrees, including but not limited to PHDs and Masters Degrees – money and time that could otherwise be spent on ‘life’, not education. High school degrees don’t get much mileage as they did decades ago, because if everyone is getting a 4.0 GPA and ‘honors’ due to dumbed-down courses, what good is it. Another cause of credentalism is that the labor pool has swelled, which is not just limited to the United States but also includes many emerging economies. The problem is the skills that are taught in collage and high school have become commoditized and are no longer ‘special’. Employers can easily outsource workers, filling jobs that decades ago would have gone to high school or even college graduates, because basic skills (like reading and writing) have become so common. And then there is also technology, which may result in low-skill jobs being automated. Either the courses are dumbed-down or too many people are completing school – it’s probably both.

Although some students go to college for the ‘experience’ and the ‘pursuit of knowledge’, many attend in the hope of landing a good-paying job when they graduate. If making money is goal, and for most students it is, there is an alternative to the current dysfunctional system. Because in the eyes of employers a college degree signals above-average intellect and competence, the obvious solution is to give employers carte blanche to screen prospective employees for intelligence using cheap, easy-to-administer IQ-type tests. This would help both employers and students. It helps employers because IQ tests (as well as related tests like the SAT and the Wonderlic) may provide a cheaper, more reliable means of assessing the intelligence and competence of potential employees than college degrees, which have been devalued by grade inflation. For students and job seekers the benefits are even more obvious: no more debt and years spent acquiring increasingly advanced degrees in the hope merely of being qualified, let alone getting a job. Even if high-scoring students are unable to find good-paying jobs (due to the economy and other factors), not accumulating a bunch of debt for that same crummy job would be a success for the program.

For this solution to be implemented, disparate impact laws (Griggs v. Duke Power) would need to be overturned. Although some large companies (like Proctor and Gamble) use these tests, they also have the financial resources and case study data to fend off litigation, which small business cannot. Not to make this too political, if the ‘left’ cared about students a much as Sanders or Hillary say they do, they would make a push to overturn disparate impact laws.

In the unlikely event Griggs is annulled, private (or maybe publicly run) mass testing centers can be established, independent from employers. Anyone can register to have their intelligence tested on one of multiple tests, in order of increasing complexity and administrative costs: Wonderlic, SAT, or Wais. The Wonderlic is a 50-question multiple choice test of general competence (basic numeracy, vocab, etc.), and takes 12 minutes to complete. The SAT is more comprehensive and takes much longer to administer, and like the Wonderlic only tests mostly math and verbal skills. The Wais the most comprehensive of all, and tests a wide range of abilities, such as spatial intelligence, which the other two tests don’t. Upon registering an account (req. govt. ID) and obtaining scores on one or multiple tests, this information can be provided who employers, who will have the ability to enter a code to verify the score on an online database.

Some may be surprised to learn that anyone who wants to enlist in the US military must score in the 33rd percentile or better on the AFQT, a test administered to all enlistees that measures ‘general skills, which is related to IQ (although in times when cannon fodder is needed the bar may be lowered), so why can’t such a testing system be adopted for the general public, for use by employers?

A common criticism is that the less intelligent would be discriminated by such a system, but the unintelligent often drop out of college (the result being debt and no degree) at a very high rate, so by not going to college and instead being tested, they would save money, which is especially helpful considering the lifetime incomes of the less intelligent isn’t very high, so they are hurt the most by having student loan debt. It’s not like the unintelligent are being deprived of their opportunity to work for NASA by being tested. Second, the likely economic tailwind from reducing student loan debt, getting young people into the workforce earlier, and boosting employer productivity would create more total jobs, benefiting job seekers of all intelligence levels.

Introverts Rule the World

In 2012 Susan Cain, formerly a Wall Street attorney, published Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. The book was a smash success, selling millions of copies and getting thousands of reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, eventually leading to a TED talk that was also equally successful and critically acclaimed, which has since been viewed almost 15 million times, making it one of the most popular TED talks ever.

Quiet topped many best-seller lists:

No. 1 on the NPR Bestseller List
No. 3 on the Los Angeles Times Best Seller list
No. 3 on The Washington Post Book World bestsellers list
No. 4 on The New York Times Best Seller list being on the list (top 15) for sixteen weeks,
No. 12 best selling book (across all categories) on Amazon.com (March 3, 2012, not necessarily a peak ranking),
No. 2 on The New York Times Best Seller list (paperback nonfiction) by mid-June 2016 having been on the list for 138 weeks, and
No. 1 bestselling original non-fiction book of 2012 as listed by the Toronto Star.

The success of Quiet and the TED talk propelled her from just another corporate nobody to a major pubic figure and even media celebrity. Most TED talk and books quickly forgotten, but this was monumental, only to be eclipsed by Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In (and associated TED talk) a few years later. But the success of Quiet paved the way for Lean In and similar semi-autobiographical accounts, that don’t just just tell a story but also convey a message that society should heed, too.

Since 2008 or so, there has been an increased interest in introverts:

Ironically, despite not seeking attention, introverts are getting more attention than ever, as well as more success in post-2008 society (in terms of good paying jobs, web 2.0, real estate, stocks, etc., in addition to success online, self-publishing, speaking gigs, etc.).

In the Ted talk, Cain describes going to summer camp, and while all the other girls were gregarious, she had a suitcase full of books and wanted to be alone. Fast-forward decades later and now the ‘most popular girl’ in her camp is probably a nobody today, while Cain has become something of a media sensation. It’s a complete 180 reversal that likely wouldn’t have been possible in any earlier time in history, but thanks to post-2008 society, which rewards individualism and success over the collective, introverts are now calling the shots and getting more attention than they ever imagined or want.

Part of this is due to the internet, which allows people who don’t like physically being with other people to express themselves to potentially limitless audience. Pretty much everyone who has a lot of followers on Instagram, Vine, Snapchat, or Twitter – or anyone who is hugely popular online – is probably an introvert in real life and was one of the ‘uncool kids’ in school – only to become the center of attention, as well as having a lot of power and status, online and as an adult. Others are coders making a solid six-figures, or making tons of money in the stock market and or other high-IQ endeavors. Meanwhile the ‘popular kids’ in school are likely stuck in low-status, low-paying jobs that don’t keep up with inflation.

But also the hyper-competitive, super-efficient nature of America’s post-2008 economy, where quantifiable results are more important than ‘small talk’ or ‘office politics’, also plays a role. Introverts, through typically having a high IQ and being industrious, are especially wired for success in today’s results-orientated, show-me economy. When the economy nearly imploded in 2008, bosses fired the least productive, the dead weight. The smartest (who are generally introverts and mostly in STEM) rose to the top, seeing their inflation-adjusted wages rise as everyone else’s wages stayed flat or declined. They (high-IQ introverts) are also making money through asset inflation (thanks to QE and forever low interest rates), such as real estate (especially in the Bay Area), web 2.0 valuations (Snapchat, Uber, Airbnb, etc.), and stocks (Facebook, Google, Amazon, etc.). And America’s most successful, respected business and technology leaders (Musk, Zuckerberg, Travis Kalanick, Thiel, Andreessen, Paul Graham, etc.) almost uniformly exhibit introvert tendencies, and are famous for their creations that are revolutionizing the world, not for being ‘people pleasers’ or talkative.

There has never been a better time in the history of the world to be an introvert than now, especially in America. Fifty years ago the ‘jocks’ ruled. There was no ‘information age’, no internet, and society was less productive and efficient. There was no ZIRP, POMO, and QE. There was an abundance of overpaying jobs for all levels intellect, whereas nowadays the less intelligent may find that they are not smart enough to succeed.

Now it’s the ‘tyranny of the bookish‘, a ‘revenge of the nerds’ society in overdrive:

Whether it’s mathematicians, theoretical physicists, coders, writers, quants, economists, or bibliophiles, the viral image above is more evidence that in America, especially, intellectualism is more important than ever, with MIT and Caltech the ‘meccas’. Reddit users know that the booksish, socially awkward, and introverted will rule the world, if they haven’t already. The financial problem of 2008 kicked the legs of the flimsy folding table that was the old economy, knocking it over and crushing those intellectually unfit.

And to quote Bill Gates, ‘Be nice to nerds. Chances are you’ll end up working for one.’

In December 2012, Cracked published what would become their most popular article ever 6 Harsh Truths That Will Make You a Better Person, which has been read and shared millions of times. Like Quiet, also published in 2012, it was very prescient in forecasting these post-2013 social and economic trends, which could explain why the article was so viral, and is an example of the ‘contrarian mainstream’ style of journalism has become really popular since 2013 (articles that douse cold water on beliefs many hold dear, which is related to ‘advice culture’).

This passage stood out:

If you want to know why society seems to shun you, or why you seem to get no respect, it’s because society is full of people who need things. They need houses built, they need food to eat, they need entertainment, they need fulfilling sexual relationships. You arrived at the scene of that emergency, holding your pocket knife, by virtue of your birth — the moment you came into the world, you became part of a system designed purely to see to people’s needs.

In the past, the Woody Allen dictum “Eighty percent of success is showing up” rang true; but, as the Cracked article shows, now it’s “Eighty percent of success is creating economic value.” Even though I lean ‘right’ on many issues, the pro-life right is wrong: being born, existence isn’t a virtue in and of itself; results are.

Now Susan Cain’s story has become commonplace, not aberrant, of 20 and 30-somethings on Instagram and elsewhere posting memes about how socializing is overrated compared to making money (hustle culture) and being alone or being ‘boring’. Nightclub attendance is plunging. Young people are getting married later, if at all, while living with their parents longer. In a sense, she was a trendsetter, but also a poster child of today’s individualistic economy and society.

Flight 93 Election (analysis)

A couple weeks ago, when I first came across the now famous ‘Flight 93‘ article, I skimmed the first few paragraphs without giving it much further consideration…the crux of the article is that America is doomed if Hillary becomes president, but with Trump there is at least a fighting chance, even if the odds are long. We can either ‘charge the cockpit’ to have a shot at living (or in the case of America, saving the country), or do nothing and certainly die.

But people kept talking about it, so I decided to investigate further, reading the article thoroughly, as well as its follow-up. Judging by the conversational tone, verbosity, attention to detail, sesquipedalian sentences, and rich punctuation, the the article sounded similar to a very popular reactionary blogger who recently went on hiatus, and my hunch was confirmed in the follow-up, in which he writes: Everything I said in “The Flight 93 Election” was derivative of things I had already said, with (I thought) more vim and vigor, in a now-defunct blog.

The first thing that struck me is how much faith he has in the system….possibly even more than I do, and some say I’m ‘too optimistic’. When I began bogging about NRx, I took a different approach, advocating incrementalism (rolling back democratic values and institutions) and possible minarchism, in contrast to monarchy or secession, and the last paragraph of Restatement, as well as overall both essays, seems to echo this theme, focusing on policy (like welfare, taxes and other policy reform) within the current constitutional republic framework, versus more far-fetched or drastic measures such as eschatology, deracination, ‘exit’, or monarchy:

One can point to a few enduring successes: Tax rates haven’t approached their former stratosphere highs. On the other hand, the Left is busy undoing welfare and policing reform. Beyond that, we’ve not been able to implement our agenda even when we win elections—which we do less and less. Conservatism had a project for national renewal that it failed to implement, while the Left made—and still makes—gain after gain after gain. Consider conservatism’s aims: “civic renewal,” “federalism,” “originalism,” “morality and family values,” “small government,” “limited government,” “Judeo-Christian values,” “strong national defense,” “respect among nations,” “economic freedom,” “an expanding pie,” “the American dream.” I support all of that. And all of it has been in retreat for 30 years. At least. But conservatism cannot admit as much, not even to itself, in the middle of the night with the door closed, the lights out and no one listening.

However, many reactionaries believe the ‘system’ is irreparable, advocating ‘accelerationism’, in which America’s decline is deliberately hastened so it collapses and from the ruins can be ‘restored’. Others advocate pacifism, because fighting democracy with democracy is, ultimately, only a win for democracy. And that Trump, despite his best efforts and good intentions, is merely a cog of a broken machinery. This is probably why there was some push-back in response to Flight 93.

But still…I’m surprised by what seems like somewhat of an about-face on his part. ‘American dream’? It sounds cheesy, and few who are alive still believe it. The ‘American dream’ is more a construct, really (the phrase was originally a marketing slogan by Federal National Mortgage Association). Also the ‘small government’ stuff reads too similar to libertarianism, which the author repudiated on many occasions. But I agree that I would rather have the government focus less on the lives of individuals, and instead pay more attention to not wasting public resources on ineffective programs and or entitlement spending.

From Flight 93:

Ever-higher taxes and ever-deteriorating services and infrastructure. Inability to win wars against tribal, sub-Third-World foes. A disastrously awful educational system that churns out kids who don’t know anything and, at the primary and secondary levels, can’t (or won’t) discipline disruptive punks, and at the higher levels saddles students with six figure debts for the privilege. And so on and drearily on. Like that portion of the mass where the priest asks for your private intentions, fill in any dismal fact about American decline that you want and I’ll stipulate it.

Yeah all of this is true. Part of the reason why America is unable to ‘win’ any wars it because it’s not allowed to win in the traditional sense of total annihilation of the enemy (which if pressed America is capable of doing). Instead, America has to engage in ‘nation building’ , which is much harder. The higher educational system need reform to a large extent, as millions of millennials are graduating with debt and no good job prospects to show for it.

In the followup, I was also surprised he considers Churchill an example of ‘good leadership’, considering Churchill [1] seems antithetical to a lot of what NRx stands for. Although his essay was intended to be an endorsement for Trump, and any obvious allusions to NRx were avoided, a better example could have been chosen. Of course, I could be wrong, and a Google search for NRx writings on Churchill didn’t yield much.

But overall, the author raises a valid point about how mainstream conservatives (akin to the Washington Generals) ‘always lose’ and how Trump departs from this trend. It’s not really a new message, and it didn’t need 3,000 words to convey, but interesting nonetheless.

[1] got his butt handed to him in the battle of Gallipoli, pulled Britain int multiple wars, and acted on personal vendettas at great loss of civilian life (bombing of Dresden), all of which contributed to the decline and demise of the British Empire and the softening of the already weak monarch

Amazon, Google, and Facebook: Bigger is Better

Why giants thrive
The power of technology, globalisation and regulation

This is why a simple investing strategy that goes ‘long’ equal weight the three biggest, fastest growing, and most successful tech companies (AMZN FB and GOOG) has done so well. Is past performance indicative of future results? No, but as far as strategies go, it’s hard to beat.

If someone says an investment strategy is ‘fail safe’ usually that’s an indication that it’s time to run to the exits, but Facebook, Amazon, and Google are exceptions, just by virtue of their immensely strong fundamentals and the fact that after a decade or longer no one has been able to come up with viable alternatives to compete with them. I remember in 2004 during the Google IPO, pundits said that anyone could come up with a ‘Google alternative’…lol 12 years later and we’re still waiting. Or in 2008-2012, predictions of a ‘Facebook alternative’, which of course has yet to happen and likely never will.

In capitalism 2.0, Bigger is better.

Just because Myspace lost to Facebook doesn’t mean Facebook will suffer a similar fate.

Airbnb, Uber, and Snapchat…all more valuable than ever, with no viable competitors on the horizon, and their valuations and market growth just keep rising, year after year, to no end, despite endless predictions by pundits of a bubble.

Contrary to popular belief, predictions of collapse are actually as common, if not more so, than predictions of a continuation of a trend. During the 80′s – 2000′s housing boom, predictions of a housing bubble were commonplace. Predicting the 2006 housing crash does not make one a contrarian, because such bearish predictions were actually as common as predictions of the housing market rising. If that seems backward, it’s because the media as of 2008 has given more attention those those who predicted a bubble. For example, Michael Lewis’ bestseller The Big Short, about how some canny traders made a fortune betting against the mortgage market. But the media also ignores all the forecasters were wrong all the way up, only to be right purely by chance in 2008. Likewise, during the 90′s dotcom bubble the media gave more attention to those who were predicting higher prices, but there were still roughly the same number of people who were predicting lower prices, but it’s just that they were mostly ignored, creating a false consensus that everyone was euphoric.

From a market perspective, the number of sellers (pessimists) has to roughly equal the number of buyers (optimists). For prices to keep rising, you need people to sell to the buyers.

These huge tech companies companies don’t need to innovate that much, rather they have market dominance and effortlessly print money through their ad platforms and other services. As the Economist article mentions, they tend to be very well insulated from global economic events (unlike the energy sector or financial sector), and these huge tech companies are also especially well suited to take advantage of global markets. Google, Facebook, and Amazon derive a significant chunk of their revenue overseas. And they can use foreign markets, loopholes, and other accounting schemes to dodge regulations and taxes that are unavoidable for smaller companies.

Up until the late 2000′s, major tech companies seem to have a about a decade of solid growth and stock price appreciation, before tapering and contracting or even collapsing (Cisco, Oracle, Sega, Sony, Atari, 3com, Research in Motion, etc.), but nowadays, as of 2004 or so, major tech companies seem to do a much better job at retaining their growth, market share, and share price appreciation.

Also, the stock market has done a much better job of quickly punishing losers (gopro, fitbit, etc.) but also rewarding winners. The investing landscape is much more choosy and selective, which could explain why active management is having such a hard time in an otherwise very strong bull market. It’s not like the late 90′s when all tech stocks were indiscriminately bid higher. You have the pick the cream of the crop or you will fail. You have all these experts who manage millions or even billions of dollars and they are just as clueless as average investors.

Millennials and Misconceptions

This is going viral: College Advice from a 75-Year-Old Who Went to School for 55 Years and Got 30 Degrees

Note how a comment that was critical was heavily down-voted and subsequently deleted, while comments praising the man were up-voted:

The story went viral because Millennials believe that, despite high student loan debt and weak job prospects for many graduates, the accumulation of knowledge is and of itself is a noble goal, but they also believe in wealth (as measured by wealth in a bank account, a brokerage account statement, or in real estate, instead of ostentatious displays of wealth in the form of rapidly depreciating positional goods and services (sports cars, nightclub VIP service, etc.)). Warren Buffet, Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page, and Elon Musk epitomize the latter, all being extremely wealthy and smart but also living a minimalist lifestyle, in contrast to Donald Trump (who isn’t as smart and has a much more extravagant lifestyle), who I support for president, but he’s not as respected by millennials as much as Musk or the founders of Google. Speaking of minimalism and intellectualism (both which are valued by millennials), Warren Buffett drinks coke (not fancy imported spirits), drives an old car, and still lives in the same home he bought decades ago in the quiet suburbs of Omaha, avoiding the commotion and extravaganza of New York despite arguably being the most important person in finance alive.

This is why I’m not so quick to beat-up millennials who accumulate debt, because even if the job prospects are poor, having the degree is part of a ‘bonding experience’ or camaraderie between other millennials who also have degrees and find themselves in similar predicaments. The degree also signals intellect. A STEM degree is preferable, but that doesn’t make the liberal arts useless in the eyes of millennials, provided the degree has some degree of intellectual rigor and are not completely useless or commercialized (like degrees ‘child development’ or ‘search engine marketing’).

Also, many have grown weary of the constant hectoring about how you ‘have to major in STEM’. Given all the recent media coverage about STEM, there is almost no one alive who doesn’t know that STEM pays more, and such reminders have become repetitious and patronizing. Even parents know STEM pays more, as well graduates and prospective students who choose to go to college for reasons besides making money (although they may later regret their major).

…and from that same discussion, a highly up-voted comment that defends religiosity:

Part of the reason why I have written so many posts about millennials is because there are so many misconceptions perpetuated by the media, as well pundits, who are all too inclined to overgeneralize millennials to fit a preexisting political bias, agenda, or belief. A common misconception is that millennials subscribe to the same form of ‘militant atheism’ as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, but although millennials lean atheist more so than other generations, as shown in the screenshot above they are refreshingly tolerant of Christianity, understanding even if one chooses to not believe in god, that religion still has a useful function at both the personal and societal level in terms of fostering well-being and community. As part of the post-2013 backlash against ‘low information’, demagoguery and zealotry (by believers and non-believers alike) is frowned upon. Same for the post-2013 backlash against SJWs and rise of centrism and rationalism: many people, especially the well-informed and educated and even liberals, are tired of a shill, vocal minority that uses ‘low information’ tactics to try to impose their poorly researched beliefs and values on others.

Another myth: that millennials are spendthrift and or ignorant about finance. Quite the opposite, as I expound on here and here. Millennials on Reddit are not representative of all millennials, but it’s a pretty big sample.

Whereas older generations embraced activism and action ‘you must save the whales’ ‘you must get a job’ ‘you must fight the man, man’ ‘you must must start a family and buy a home’, millennials want to stay at home and ‘chill’, embrace pacifism, procrastinate, indulge in intellectual endeavors, or be ‘boring‘. But also millennials seek wealth, but on their own terms, and don’t wish to fritter their money on rapidly depreciating positional goods. ‘Careerism’ is a post-ww2 phenomenon that locks people into a rat maze where a big home or a fancy car, not cheese, is waiting at the exit. Millennials, generally, want none of that, and who can blame them. Rather, they are choosing MGTOW, Red Pill, minimalism, etc. as alternatives. For millennials, wealth is measured not just by how much money you have but also how much you know, too, which is why they value higher education (even if the degrees may not pay much and or require a lot of debt).

If it seems like I’m picking on the ‘right’ here, I’m only trying to help by correcting some of the persistent misconceptions of millennials that may impede the ability of Republicans to connect with this very large and influential voting block. Another common misconception is that all millennials are radicalized liberals. Although SJWs and BLM are mostly millennials and have gotten a lot of media attention for their antics and tantrums, they are not representative of all millennials, and many millennials, including even liberals, are tired of how WSJs suppress free speech or any idea that may deem ‘racist’ (a word which has been redefined to mean anyone who holds views that the far-left finds offensive), as part of the post-2013 SJW backlash. Consider the alt-right surge, which is mainly led by millennials and has been so immensely successful and influential that even Hillary Clinton and the MSM (such as CNBC) are talking it. Trump owes some of his success to the alt-right.

How I Rewired My Brain to Become Fluent in Math (response)

How I Rewired My Brain to Become Fluent in Math

They should just call it nauseo.us magazine because some of these articles are so wrong as to induce vomiting.

There is no disagreement about the absurdity that playing basketball will make you taller but many people willingly believe ‘brain puzzles’ or ‘rewiring’ will make them smarter. [1] Many want to hold on to the cherished belief instilled by culture that they have ‘free will’, and that their potential, particularly as it pertains to intellectual endeavors such as math or coding, is not limited by genes.

Interestingly though, intelligence is treated as malleable whereas physical traits less so. We’re more apt to believe we can ‘rewire our brains’ to become good at math, than become a marathoner. Part of this has to do with how society has evolved economically, from an economy and society that prized physical labor, to presently, the ‘information age’, where intellectualism is more important than physical strength. A couple hundred years it would have been the opposite: people believing that physical ability and traits are malleable but intelligence less so. High intelligence confers with a greater self-worth, as well as being a more valuable person to society in terms of economic value and creative output.

Nowadays it’s not as politically incorrect (or at least not as much as it was decades ago) to point out that perhaps some groups, due to certain biological traits, are better at basketball or sprinting than others. But to suggest that some groups are less intelligent? Well then it’s off to the unemployment line for you.

I was a wayward kid who grew up on the literary side of life, treating math and science as if they were pustules from the plague. So it’s a little strange how I’ve ended up now—someone who dances daily with triple integrals, Fourier transforms, and that crown jewel of mathematics, Euler’s equation. It’s hard to believe I’ve flipped from a virtually congenital math-phobe to a professor of engineering.

One day, one of my students asked me how I did it—how I changed my brain. I wanted to answer Hell—with lots of difficulty! After all, I’d flunked my way through elementary, middle, and high school math and science. In fact, I didn’t start studying remedial math until I left the Army at age 26. If there were a textbook example of the potential for adult neural plasticity, I’d be Exhibit A

We’ll it’s fairly obvious the author has a high IQ, and this helped her make the transition from a ‘mathphobe’ to a ‘numerophile’. HBD explains what others attribute to ‘magic’, ‘rewiring’, or ‘tons of practice’. This also douses water on the multiple intelligences theory, as opposed to the Spearman ‘general g’ theory of intelligence. The creation of these multiples types of ‘intelligence’ (‘street smarts’, EQ, ‘multiple intelligences’) seems to be part of a trend in political correctness in not wanting to face the unpleasant reality that some people are perhaps smarter than others, so by creating many types of intelligences, everyone can be smart at ‘something’. As it turns out, people who are smart at writing can often make the transition to other high-IQ endeavors such as math or coding, whereas those who are less intelligent tend to not be very good at anything intellectual-related.

[1] A refutation is that exercise can improve physical ability, and that if people improve at basketball by practicing then one can become smarter by doing ‘brain puzzles’ and ‘rewiring’. In general, physical ability tends more plastic than mental ability, but improvement in ability should not be confused for modification of ‘traits’. People know that height is a fixed trait, which (after the bones stop growing) is correct, but they are also inclined to believe intelligence is malleable, but this is just as absurd as thinking you can modify your height (short of surgery). As for ‘brain training’, brain puzzles do not boost IQ to any high degree of significance.

But how about studying? Don’t people who study math become better at it. To some extent, yes, but improvement at a task should not be conflated with modification of an underlying trait (like height, IQ, etc.). Studying is like doing a single Sudoku puzzle over and over and being really good at the one Sudoku configuration. IQ is what allows you to be good at any puzzle, and to master puzzles quickly. IQ involves making inferences, separating noise from signal. It’s the reason why ‘plug and chug’ is much easier for students than word problems; the latter requires making inferences. It’s more mentally demanding. As for learning, smarter people get better faster (which is also why IQ is strongly correlated with job performance). The less intelligent may see improvement, but they may never make the fundamental connections necessary for mastery (it never ‘clicks’), and they are less adept at filtering noise. IQ is analogous to the hardware on a computer whereas ‘brain boosters’ and ‘studying’ are like the ‘software’…no matter how good the software is, it will run against the physical limitations imposed by the number of transistors on the chip, as well as the RAM.

Tooleb becomes self-aware, part 2

It looks like Nassim Nicholas Tooleb is becoming self-aware again in a recent Medium post appropriately titled The Intellectual Yet Idiot (in which he expands on his original Facebook post). Just replace all instances of ‘IYI’ with ‘Tooleb’ and it’s a perfect description of him.

For those who think Tooleb is part of the alt-right, he’s not. He’s not even a conservative but rather a liberal pretending to be a libertarian, who frequently attacks the rich and corporations:

What we generally call participation in the political process, he calls by two distinct designations: “democracy” when it fits the IYI, and “populism” when the plebeians dare voting in a way that contradicts his preferences. While rich people believe in one tax dollar one vote, more humanistic ones in one man one vote, Monsanto in one lobbyist one vote, the IYI believes in one Ivy League degree one-vote, with some equivalence for foreign elite schools, and PhDs as these are needed in the club.

Tooleb doesn’t oppose democracy and populism; rather he believes it’s been corrupted by the rich and corporations, as well as ivy tower elites. He still holds on to the romanticism of the democratic political process.

Here is Tooleb praising India’s democracy while calling Saudia Arabia a ‘very fragile country’:

I know that Saudi Arabia is a very, very fragile country, probably the one that’s most fragile for a lot of reasons. They are more robust to oil revenue to Iran and other countries but not other things. They say oil is x percent of GDP, around 50% but the rest is also linked to oil. It is untenable. You see here in India you do not have governance problems, it is a democracy and that makes you a lot more robust than other countries, definitely more robust than China.

In waging class warfare, pitting the makers against the takers, Tooleb is no different than Bernie ‘wealth spreader’ Sanders.

Tooleb writes:

The IYI has been wrong, historically, on Stalinism, Maoism, GMOs, Iraq, Libya, Syria, lobotomies, urban planning, carbohydrates, gym machines, linear regression, Gaussianism, Salafism, housing projects, and p-values. But he is convinced that his current position is right.

But then he drags Pinker again through the mud as an ‘IYI’:

The IYI is member of a club to get traveling privileges; if social scientist he uses statistics without knowing how they are derived (like Steven Pinker and psycholophasters in general);

This continues in Tooleb’s tradition of attacking experts who are smarter than him (Pinker, Dawkins, etc.).

Tooleb is so blinded by his dislike of Pinker that he fails to see that Pinker, despite being an ‘IYI’, is actually very critical of communism, writing in his book The Better Angels of Our Nature that “…communism was a major force for violence for more than 100 years, because it was built into its ideology.”

As Pinker astutely points out, communism is violent because violence is required in order to achieve and enforce ‘equal outcomes’, in agreement with the blank slate worldview of humanity that mandates equal outcomes, as well as the nationalization of private property. But equality goes against human nature (rich, successful people, including even Hollywood liberals who vote democratic, don’t voluntarily want to forfeit the fruits of their labor to the state) and the ‘natural order’ (productive, intelligent economically rising above the less intelligent, unproductive), necessitating violence to get it.

Here is something else that’s pretty funny, from Nassim Taleb Talks Antifragile, Libertarianism, and Capitalism’s Genius for Failure, in which he says:

Taleb has called New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman “vile and harmful” and coined the phrase the “Stiglitz Syndrome” after Nobel-prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, which refers to the phenomenon of public intellectuals being held utterly unaccountable for their bad predictions. Paul Krugman and Paul Samuelson are among Taleb’s other Nobel laureate bête noires.

Hmmm…speaking of unaccountably, why hasn’t Tooleb owned up to his own wrong 2009 predictions of hyperinflation?

Unlike last year’s sudden market implosion, inflation isn’t an unimaginable event that few currently anticipate. In fact, many fear inflation right now amid government efforts to goose the economy. Universa’s bet, however, is that inflation will reach levels few expect.

What a spert he is. I was one of the few bloggers who was correct about almost everything since 2011, correctly predicting a continuation of the bull market and low inflation.

If you raise this issue on Tooleb’s Twitter, or question any of his beliefs, he will block you.

Behavioral Psychology and Influence

I’m skeptical that this persuasion stuff works on anyone who is remotely competent, such as gatekeepers and employers. It’s all flimsy social pop pseudoscience, much like Daniel Kahneman and Dan Ariely books that tell a message that people want to read despite the actual science being lacking, fabricated, or nonexistent.

Of the six items on the list, authority, consistency, and social proof are the ones that matter, but obtaining those requires a lot of competence. Or you can use shills, but that’s dishonest. Reciprocation often does not work in situations where there is a great disparity of power between both parties.

Yes, these persuasion techniques may work on people with room temperature IQs, or if you want to be a used car salesman, but to persuade and influence people who actually matter (gatekeepers, employers for good-paying jobs, journal editors, etc.), you have to demonstrate extreme competence. There are no shortcuts or ‘life hacks’. Persuasion, as well as influencing important people, ultimately requires proving your worth, by being competent, as I explain in more detail in Why Dale Carnegie is Wrong.

Suspicions of the social sciences being flimsy (with the exceptions of certain quantitative fields of finance, as well as the study of IQ) were affirmed in recent misconduct scandals (Diederik Stapel, Marc Hauser), as part of the ‘replication crisis‘ that is rippling through the field of behavioral psychology right now:

This isn’t the first time that an idea in psychology has been challenged—not by a long shot. A “reproducibility crisis” in psychology, and in many other fields, has now been well-established. A study out last summer tried to replicate 100 psychology experiments one-for-one and found that just 40 percent of those replications were successful. A critique of that study just appeared last week, claiming that the original authors made statistical errors—but that critique has itself been attacked for misconstruing facts, ignoring evidence, and indulging in some wishful thinking.

Bad ideas are infectious because they often tell people want they want to believe, not what is true.

Post-Pundit Era

Perhaps we’re kinda in a post-pundit era. Pundits used to have a lot of influence, but since 2013 or so, not as much. Through much of the 80′s and 90′s, pundits dominated the newspapers, radio, and TVs, their opinions broadcast to a Zingiest that eagerly spread the word, as well as influencing policy. Thomas Sowell, through his widely read books and columns, played a role in creating Reganomics, but nowadays one would be hard-pressed to find a pundit that influenced Obama as much as Reagan was influenced by by Sowell and Laffer.

One could argue that the first shoe to drop was the decline of talk radio and newspaper circulations and subscriptions, as a consequence of the internet era. As information became more disseminated and fragmented, the influence of the handful of so-called ‘mega pundits’ became diluted as thousands of smaller pundit such as bloggers and podcasters competed for people’s attention. Suddenly, the opinion pages of the WSJ and NYTs were read by fewer people, and fewer people care what Paul Krugman or Thomas Friedman have to say, unlike in the early 2000′s when those mega-pundits had much more influence on the ‘national debate’.

Online, on major communities like Reddit and Hacker News, I can hardly recall anyone referencing anything written or said by a major pundit. For the ‘right’, no mentions of anything by Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, or Bill O’Reilly. Likewise, no mentions of Paul Krugman, Maureen O’Dowd, Thomas Friedman, or Thomas Blow, all of whom write for the biggest newspaper in the world, The New York Times. Ross Douthat is a notable exception, because he taps into these ‘shared narratives’ probably better than any other pundit.

The second shoe to drop, and a much more recent development, is the post-2013 rise of ‘intellectualism culture‘, as I alluded to in Alt-Right and Internet Journalism, consequentially lessening the viralness and influence of 80′s and 90′s-era partisan punditry, which has given way to ‘shared narratives’ and a more introspective or nuanced writing style. Although Ann Coulter articles are shared among conservative communities and websites, her articles almost never go viral on major social bookmarking sites. This is because her articles (as well as the same for leftist pundits like Krugman) are perhaps perceived as too opinionated and shrill, not intellectual or nuanced enough. Rather than tapping into a ‘shared narrative’ or using data visualizations, these pundits are just preaching to the choir, which was an effective strategy as recently as a decade ago, but will fail to expand the underlying message that the pundit is trying to convey to a savvier audience that has become deaf or repulsed by demagoguery.

Let’s say you want to ‘raise awareness’ (which is a hackneyed expression, but raising awareness is what pundits try to do) about America’s immigration problem. The pre-2013 approach would be to write a divisive opinion piece, replete with hyperbole and metaphors (such has referring to immigrants as ‘hordes of invaders’), and such an article would be widely read and well received by those already in your ‘tribe’, but it be very hard to get the article to go viral elsewhere. The post-2013 approach would be to ditch the hyperbole and opinions and instead create an article full of data visualizations that shows many immigrants are coming to America and how the native population is being displaced, and so on. The latter has a greater likelihood of going viral and, ultimately, raising awareness about immigration.