Monthly Archives: February 2017

The Best of Times or The Worst of Times?

We have two contrasting opinions:

From Bill ‘RamZPaul’ Gates: Warren Buffett’s Best Investment

Bill: One of my favorite books is Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature. It shows how violence has dropped dramatically over time. That’s startling news to people, because they tend to think things are not improving as much as they are. Actually, in significant ways, the world is a better place to live than it has ever been. Global poverty is going down, childhood deaths are dropping, literacy is rising, the status of women and minorities around the world is improving.

And on the other extreme: Our Miserable 21st Century

Based on the empirical evidence, I side with the latter (optimism about the US economy and America), although it’s sightly more complicated. I argue there is a Lockean/Hobbes optimism/pessimism dichotomy, from Neo Masculinity and Christianity, Darwinian Conservatism, Free Will, Biological Reality:

But this should not be confused with a pessimistic view of human nature, as expounded by Hobbes. In the spirit of Locke, I am optimistic about the human condition, as well as the economy, but not for most individual humans – in that while society will continue to advance and prosper in terms of technology and other metrics, and the stock market will keep going up, at the individual level things won’t feel so great, with ennui, anxiety, and emptiness the dominant human condition for the vast majority who are not smart enough to attain ‘enlightenment’. John Locke’s optimism was rooted in his faith, for man to full fill his ‘god given’ potential to create, in contrast to the atheist Hobbes who equates man to animals. There is a middle ground, in that we are in an ‘enlightenment’ for those who are smart and successful enough to participate in it , but a Hobbesian ‘dark age’ for everyone else. The capacity to create does not come from god or some creator, but from genes, which is how Darwinism can be reconciled with the more optimistic, future-oriented worldview of the Enlightenment.

America, are measured by it’s economy, S&P 500 profits & earnings, stock market, global military and economic influence, and innovation is doing better than ever; but a lot of people, especially those in the ‘fat middle’ of the IQ distribution, seem to be falling between the cracks. They aren’t starving to death, but they aren’t fully participating in the post-2009 recovery either, plagued by high debt, weak job prospects, medical bills, student loan debt, etc…

So for for rich and or high-IQ people, especially in the web 2.0 ‘tech scene’, times are, generally, good:

..America, especially since 2008, has become a hyper-meritocracy in overdrive. If you like coding, have a prestigious degree and a high IQ, now couldn’t be a better time to be alive, although having the first two qualities pretty much guarantees the third. We’re in a high-IQ, STEM, wealth creation feeding frenzy on a biblical scale. The Rockefellers, Vanderbilt and Carnegies actually had to build something to get wealthy, which took decades and thousands of people. Now start-ups less than three years old are making instant billionaires out of their youthful founders and early investors. Even in the 90′s – what many consider to be the epitome of a bubble – a typical tech start-up was seldom valued at over $60-100 million. Now that is just the Series A round. The Bay Area housing market is going nuts in all-cash bidding wars above the asking price due to endless fed money, rich foreigners, web 2.0 founders and investors flush with cash, and private equity.

This does not apply to all smart people, obviously, but your odds are better than for the less intelligent. For everyone else, maybe the odds of economic success are poorer. That’s the way I see things for the foreseeable future, possibly for decades or even a century or longer. This is also how HBD, the ‘American dream‘, and the success and strength of the US economy are intimately related, because America, through its free market, political stability, and prestigious research universities, is like a ‘magnet’ for the world’s best and brightest, boosting the US economy but also causing a ‘brain drain’ among countries that have their top talent poached by American tech firms and universities. The ‘wealth of nations‘ is real, and, economically, low-IQ countries do worse the high-IQ ones, like Singapore:

The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in Singapore was worth 292.74 billion US dollars in 2015. The GDP value of Singapore represents 0.47 percent of the world economy. GDP in Singapore averaged 71.73 USD Billion from 1960 until 2015, reaching an all time high of 306.34 USD Billion in 2014 and a record low of 0.70 USD Billion in 1960.

A 422x gain in 55 years, greater than perhaps any developed country:


Contrast that with Zimbabwe, which only gained 14x in the same time period:


Obviously, there are other factors besides IQ, but as we see, time and time again, smarter countries are better countries, with greater economic growth, less corruption, and more stability.

America’s national IQ is 100, but that includes large populations of ‘low scoring’ groups, but in regions such as the Bay Area, Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, and Manhattan, it’s probably as high as 110-115. The same applies to real estate: since 2007, smarter regions (Palo Alto, San Francisco, Manhattan) have provided higher returns than low-IQ ones (Detroit, Chicago, Minneapolis).

Regarding the second article, Our Miserable 21st Century, the author is misconstruing/misinterpreting statistics and committing logical fallacies (such as moving the goalposts) to advance his political agenda.

The recovery from the crash of 2008—which unleashed the worst recession since the Great Depression—has been singularly slow and weak. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), it took nearly four years for America’s gross domestic product (GDP) to re-attain its late 2007 level. As of late 2016, total value added to the U.S. economy was just 12 percent higher than in 2007. (SEE FIGURE 2.) The situation is even more sobering if we consider per capita growth. It took America six and a half years—until mid-2014—to get back to its late 2007 per capita production levels. And in late 2016, per capita output was just 4 percent higher than in late 2007—nine years earlier. By this reckoning, the American economy looks to have suffered something close to a lost decad

Yes, maybe growth is slow and weak compared to the 40′s and 50′s, but compared to the 80′s and 90′s and early 2000′s, it’s pretty much in-line with historic trends, albeit just a tad lower:

But part of the alleged economic weakness may also be attributed to the declining population growth rate of America:

When adjusted for population size (per-capita GDP growth), it’s better.

Yes, it often takes 4-5 years to recover from a recession. It was that way in the 70′s and 80′s, yet the author somehow ignores those instances.

“The U.S. Congressional Budget Office (CBO), for example, suggests that the “potential growth” rate for the U.S. economy at full employment of factors of production has now dropped below 1.7 percent a year, implying a sustainable long-term annual ”

Sounds like moving the goal posts…growth is growth, and the USA has the highest real GDP growth (at 2-3%) than almost all developed countries. Anyone can create an arbitrary metric and than say the US economy is ‘failing’ by not meeting said metric. Part of being a ‘reactionary realist’ is living in reality, not, as Scott Adams calls, a ‘mental movie’.

The USA has the highest real GDP growth of all developed countries, which is even more impressive given its size:

This is the chart the ‘fake news’ does not want you to see, who insist the US has weaker growth than the rest of the world, which is refuted by simple empirical comparison of growth rates.

The fake, misleading financial media only reports nominal GDP growth, not real growth, so countries with high nominal growth seem to be better but the are actually worse because all that growth comes at the cost of inflation and falling currencies. From Slow Economic Growth Not a Big Deal:

It’s like selling a book for $20 but inserting a $20 bill inside. Yeah, you’ll get a lot of sales, but it’s costing you more money than you make. That’s the bad situation facing many of these emerging countries right now…they are borrowing a lot of money at very unfavorable rates to keep growth high, whereas America can borrow at very little and still have solid growth.

Profits & earnings for tech companies, payment processing, retail, and consumer staples companies have far-outpaced GDP growth. A lot of the lag comes from the chronically weak financial, commodity, and energy sector.

Google, Amazon, and Facebook reported blowout quarters for like the 50th time in a row. Companies like Nike, Lowes, Costco, Disney, Johnson and Johnson, Starbucks, and Home Depot reporting double-digit profits & earnings growth.

The pundit-left as of late has invented a new tactic: trying to emphasize with the concerns of Trump voters and the ‘working class’ (as Michael Moron tries to do), instead of mocking them, which I have dubbed ‘concern liberalism‘. Maybe this is a sign of desperation or capitulation by the far-left, because they know their ideology is failing and they are losing.

Make The Stock Market Great Again

Stock market hits new highs The ‘Teflon market’: Why stocks keep setting new highs despite Trump drama

The S&P 500 has gained 10% since Trump’s victory.

However, thank free markets, profits & earnings growth, exports, consumer spending, web 2.0, technology, and innovation by America’s best and brightest, not Obama.

Glad I ignored all those people who said to sell stocks if Trump won…Bitcoin will also keep going up. Same for home prices in Bay Area. My favorite picks, Google, Facebook, and Amazon, keep doing well too. the Snapchat IPO will also likely be a success and I’ll buy some of that (but not much). These companies have become an inseparable part of everyone’s lives…people using Google for search, and there are Google Adsense ads everywhere (all major sites have them…Bloomberg, NY Times, WSJ, Forbes, etc). Everyone shops on Amazon, which is overtaking offline retail. Over a billion people login to Facebook every day and also click the Facebook ads, which advertisers spend billions of dollars every year on. Also, there is Instagram and WhatsApp, both owned by Facebook are are seeing huge growth and ad spending.

Barry Ritholz, who despite being on the ‘left’ provides a sober and rational outlook on political and economic matters, has a list of all the pros and cons stock market under Trump The Investing Pros and Cons of Trump:

No. 1. Tax Reform: This is the big one, and it includes tax cuts, cleaning up the corporate tax code and repatriation of trillions of dollars of corporate profits parked overseas to avoid onerous taxation. As noted before, it would be hard to beat the economic impact of tax cuts, tax reform and the return of all that overseas money. Add this to No. 3 on our list, and you get Keynesian stimulus at its finest.

No. 2. Deregulation: Hope comes not only from the financial sector, which has enjoyed a bigly post-election market rally, but from lots of other industries. The wishful thinking is that the cost of doing business declines.

No. 3. Infrastructure: Trump seemed at one point to be gung-ho on a plan to spend as much as $1 trillion on refurbishing and expanding America’s bridges, roads, tunnels, ports and water systems. As we pointed out yesterday, it is long past due.

No. 4. Sentiment: All of the above have combined to make business people and investors more optimistic, which of course feeds into what we’ve seen going on in markets.

Barry also lists the potential negatives, which in my opinion are vague and vastly outweighed by the positives. Should Trump get his way, which given the GOP-controlled house is almost certain, we can expect a couple trillion dollars of more spending on top of existing spending projections. Much of that spending is going to flow into the economy, housing market, and stock market. Even if tax cuts do not pay for themselves, because the USA can borrow at such a low rate, the spending adds to top-line growth at almost no immediate cost.

I don’t like Zuck’s politics, but Facebook has been and will continue to be a great investment, and Zuck seems to know how to please the people who matter most, the shareholders. Same for Google and Amazon, which despite censorship from the former (by deleting YouTube videos and accounts that post ‘controversial’ stuff and then making up lame excuses such as ‘copyright violations’ for a mini soundtrack from 25 years ago or some other BS) and crappy politics from the CEO of the latter, continue to be good investments. Sometimes you can’t agree or have everything. Zerohedge, although they tacitly support Trump, has been wrong about the economy and stock market since 2009. I don’t take my politics and investment advice from the same source: Facebook has crappy politics but it has been a great investment; I agree with the alt-right on things like anti-democracy, Trump, anti-feminism, anti-SJW, Nietzsche philosophy, HBD, etc., but not on the doom and gloom economic stuff.

Gab is gaining momentum as an alternative to Twitter, but alternatives to You Tube are more elusive.

I tend to be more of an empiricist when it comes to certain issues. It’s empirically obvious to myself (and others) that SJW-liberalism is as much of a mental illness as it is a failed ideology, that the alleged ‘college rape epidemic’ is a combination of hoaxes and false memories, that biological differences between men and women and races exist and such differences manifest in socioeconomic outcomes and IQ scores, that capitalism > communism, that ‘rape culture’ is a also myth, that the mainstream media is rapidly losing credibility, and that democracy as a system of government is deeply flawed. Yet at the same time, the empirical evidence also shows that that US economy is not dying, but is doing quite well as measured by data such as consumer spending, technological innovation, exports, and profits & earnings growth. Although there is some some civil unrest and angst in America, the empirical evidence again shows it’s not abnormally high relative to earlier decades.

However, there is significantly more unrest in counties such as Turkey, France, and Brazil (so much so that it threatens their economies), but I would never invest there nor recommend anyone else do so. I have been bearish on emerging markets and Europe since 2013. Emerging markets and Europe have significantly lagged the S&P 500 since 2011, as another example of a correct prediction by this blog. Low-IQ countries tend to have a lot of unrest, graft, inflation, and corruption and make bad investments. Italy and Greece are much closer to being an ‘idiocracy’ than America. In America, the Tea Pot Dome scandal and Watergate are still a big deal, to give an idea of how rare corruption in America is compared to quotidian corruption in Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, and Turkey, which fills volumes and is a part of everyday life for those countries.

I am ‘short’ Europe and emerging markets while ‘long’ US stocks and treasury bonds. If there is global civil and economic collapse, Europe will most certainly go down the drain first and the deepest and furthest down the drain. I will profit from the differential (America minus ex-America), so even if there is collapse I will come out ahead.

Another reason I’m optimistic is because the neocons in Congress, even if they aren’t crazy about Trump, will gladly accept lower taxes, deregulation, more military sending, which is what Trump wants and what the stock market wants. Trump may cave on some issues to get his other policy passed. If Congress stonewalls Trump, then fears of Trump upsetting the economy through ‘rash policy’ will be abated, which is an undue fear to begin with.

Overall, the fact so many pundits were wrong about Trump and the stock market is further reason why they (and the rest of Fake News media) are losing credibility. Let them fail…their absence won’t be missed.

Mark Zuckerberg: a Modern-day Progressive

Not surprisingly, Zuckerberg’s manifesto was panned by everyone.

Zuckerberg Gives Public an Indication How He Lives in an Alternative Reality

Mark Zuckerberg’s manifesto for Facebook offers a social dystopia

But also, people don’t like being reduced to props and ‘extras’ for the screenplay that is Zuck’s ‘new world order’, except that instead of being a movie it’s real life.

Furthermore, as the saying goes, the road to hell is often paved with good intentions. When powerful, ambitious people think they are on the side of ‘good’ or try to ‘play god’, there is a natural tendency to be wary.

To others, the manifesto was self-serving and self-absorbed, as a sort of thinly veiled pr for Facebook.

And the hypocrisy of elites preaching ‘unity’ yet spending millions of dollars to isolate themselves (luxury doomsday bomb shelters, New Zealand citizenship, private islands, walled residential complexes, etc.) from the very people whose interests they claim to support but otherwise want nothing to do with.

Zuckerberg is essentially a modern day Progressive, related to reformers of the late 19th and early 20th century who supported sweeping social initiatives to carry out the ‘will of God’, although Zuck’s progressiveness is obviously more secular but still keeping in the tradition of optimism of science and technology and the power of ‘social reform’, with Zuck as the self-ordained minister of the contrived religion that is ‘one-worldism’.

Progressivism in America continues where the Age of Enlightenment in Europe leaves off.

Progressivism is a philosophy based on the Idea of Progress, which asserts that advancements in science, technology, economic development, and social organization are vital to the improvement of the human condition. Progressivism became highly significant during the Age of Enlightenment in Europe, out of the belief that Europe was demonstrating that societies could progress in civility from barbaric conditions to civilization through strengthening the basis of empirical knowledge as the foundation of society.[1] Figures of the Enlightenment believed that progress had universal application to all societies and that these ideas would spread across the world from Europe.[1] Sociologist Robert Nisbet defines five “crucial premises” of the Idea of Progress as being: value of the past; nobility of Western civilization; worth of economic/technological growth; scientific/scholarly knowledge obtained through reason over faith; the intrinsic importance and worth of life on Earth.[2] Beyond this, the meanings of progressivism have varied over time and from different perspectives.

-late 19th century, early of 20th century (ended in 1920)
-modern progrressives (or what we simply call ‘liberals’) differ from forebears (imho, modern, secular progressives are actually worse)
-substantial social reforms
-experimented with eugenics
-in the spirit of John Stuart Mill: ‘reason’ and utilitarian-based policy.
-some social Darwinism
-supported minimum wage, opposed free markets, supported regulation and state intervention.
-administrative state, borrowed from Germany
-’the state’ > individual (the state as analogous to an organism whereby the ‘whole’ is greater than the parts it is composed of). This differs from classical liberalism, in which individual liberty and rights (natural law) are paramount.
-Protestant reformers who felt they were carrying out the ‘Will of God’.
-economists such as Irving Fischer and Richard T. Ely
-President Woodrow Wilson
-elitist, paternalist, expanded role of state, (a society run by intellectuals and experts…the epitome of ‘expert culture’, put the ‘best and brightest’ in charge to maximize economic growth)

Zuckerberg’s manifesto was panned because modern day liberals, who tend to have a very negative world view, don’t want to reform the system using ‘science’ and ‘reason’; rather, like modern day barbarians that they are, the left seeks destroy society (as the revolutionaries did to Russia in 1918); and second, the left doesn’t like how Zuckerberg is so rich and doesn’t spread his wealth more.

Although Zuckerberg’s politics are unadulterated paternalist liberal elitism, there is a silver lining which is is that Zuck’s approach, in the NRX-sense, is counter-revolutionary, emphasizing ‘restoration’ instead of ‘revolution’. Thiel and Silicon Valley neo reactionaries understand this distinction.

The Healthcare (and Student Loan) Debate, Part 2…Why is everything so expensive?

Part 1: The Healthcare Debate: Confronting Reality (End of Life Care and Costly Chronic Diseases)

In part one, I discuss end-of-life care and chronic diseases and how they are a major contributing factor for rising healthcare expenditures. I also discuss the ethical considerations of denying care to such individuals.

But America’s healthcare cost expansion isn’t just limited to the elderly and the chronically ill–it’s expensive for everything and everyone, and in this post I will try to explain why. This also applies to student loans, which like healthcare, has grown substantially in recent decades.

Scott’s ‘cost disease’ post, which went hugely viral, attempts to answer this question.


The problem with this debate is it falls under the category of ‘un-answerables’:

‘Global warming…if it exists, is it man-made or not?’

‘Student/college loan/tuition crisis/bubble–what can be done?’

‘Job loss and automation–will technology destroy all jobs?’

‘Why is healthcare in America so expensive?’

‘Free trade–is it good or bad?’

‘Why is affordable housing in California so difficult?…zoning, NIMBYism, etc.’

These are issues that despite being debated to death, have no consensus or resolution. These things will never be settled. Anther problem with these issues is they are highly partisan in nature, meaning they are based on emotion and ‘tribalism’ more so than empirical evidence. But I’ll try anyway. For this post, going to ignore public elementary and secondary school cost increases and just focus on college tuition.

Costs for both tuition and healthcare have surged relative to inflation and other services:

Not only has tuition surged, so too has federal student loan borrowing, suggesting a link between the two:

The student loan and tuition crisis is discussed in more detail in the post We’re Making Life Too Hard for Millennials:

The first problem is credentialism; second, students going to college who are not smart enough or mature enough graduate, taking on debt and then dropping out; third, federal student aid driving-up tuition costs; fourth, students majoring in subjects that pay poorly instead of STEM. As I explain in an earlier article Countering Flawed Arguments of the Anti-College Movement:

Also, to further answer Scott’s question, the issue is, hardly anyone pays out of pocket for anything anymore, both for healthcare and education. There are so many programs to avoid or defer paying: medicaid, medicare, free emergency room treatment, generous student loan grants and financial aid for everyone of almost all income brackets, and student loan forgiveness. As discussed in the earlier post Affordable Housing, Healthcare, & Tuition: Putting Things in Perspective, when adjusted for aid, public care, assistance, scholarships, loans, and various deferments, the burden of these costs on consumers is not as bad. When you make a service effectively free, demand for it will go up, increasing the total amount spent.

The full sticker price is seldom paid. According to the article, only 1/3rd of private university student pay the full sticker price, and the most attractive students get the best aid packages. Tuition is only growing at 2-4% a year, which is anywhere from 0-2% greater than the CPI inflation, after adjusting for a myriad of subsidies, grants, and other financial aid.

Furthermore, it’s very hard to collect on defaults. Costs may be rising at a rate greater than inflation also because people are requesting more total education and more total healthcare…instead of going to the hospital for life-threatening stuff, they go because of a stomach ache or a small cut, as well as more spending for elective procedures (nose realignment and stuff like that). Colleges and high schools have more elective programs , bigger campuses, more computers, more courses, more staff, etc. than in the past. Some colleges have AI and robotics labs. A college campus today has vastly more amenities than a campus generations ago…why are people surprised that it should cost more too?

American’s expectations for healthcare and education quality are high: We demand schools with lots of teachers, athletics, and other programs; colleges with lots of programs, stupid/pointless classes, and amenities; and for hospitals to treat everything and everyone, regardless of cost or ability to pay; and we want quick access to latest treatments and diagnostic machines. Other factors also boost costs, such as America’s use of private and two-person hospital rooms:

For example, in the middle of the last century, the U.S. decided that private or at most two-person rooms were best, because they made it easier to control infection and to let patients rest. For decades, we built hospitals to this standard; when my mother was in the hospital for a complicated appendectomy, there weren’t even any semi-private rooms on the surgical ward.

Private rooms drive up costs in a lot of ways: They take up more space, you have to duplicate equipment, and because the nurses can’t see the patients, you need more monitors and/or staff circulating to make sure no one has stopped breathing. Basic hospital rooms in many other countries look spartan and overcrowded compared with what most Americans are used to, because they have more people and fewer beeping machines.

Shorter waiting times and private rooms decreases the risk of complications and infection, boosting survival rates.

But a major factor for high healthcare costs in America is how American drug companies subsidize treatments at a lower price for foreign countries:

The price of a medical miracle varies by country. Imatinib — also known as Gleevec — was hailed as a miracle cure to treat chronic myeloid leukemia, a rare type of cancer, upon the drug’s approval in 2001. In the U.S., a year of treatment cost $92,000 in 2013. Everywhere else in the world, including in developed countries, it cost far less. Germany’s price tag was $54,000. In the U.K., it was $33,500 for annual care.

In Europe, drug prices are set by governments, not by pharmaceutical companies the way they are in the U.S. On average, the difference between the price of one drug in the U.S. and the same drug in France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the U.K. was 50 percent, an analysis by the consulting firm McKinsey has found.

“U.S. consumers are in fact subsidizing other countries’ public health systems, at least with respect to drug pricing,” Jacob Sherkow, an associate professor at New York Law School, said.

If France had to develop their own drugs and medical devices at a cost less than in America, they would probably fail.

As explained in part one, costly diseases are also major factor. It costs $200k-$1,00,000 to treat leukemia..and the average household has negative net worth…even the uninsured get the same treatment…obviously, the typical patient is not paying that, so it gets added (along with other cancers and costly diseases) to per-capita medical costs.

Medical care has become vastly more advanced too: some cancers can now be cured and survival prolonged for many others…treatments for so many diseases have gotten better than generations ago. Imagine if we could extrapolate the chart of medical costs to the medieval times…yes it would have been cheaper but also competently useless (actually iatrogenic) in terms of quality of care (as anesthesia did not exist and they believed in things like ‘humors)’. Yes, healthcare in Botswana is very cheap, but good luck getting your rare malignancy with special chromosomal markers treated there. Does this answer the question? Probably not by a long shot, but just a perspective. IMHO, when you adjust the costs in terms of out-of-pocket costs vs. sticker costs, quality of care, and innovation, perhaps it’s not so bad.

A common argument is that healthcare in all developed nations is the same, but Americans are simply paying more. However, the evidence suggests American healthcare is superior in many respects.

Survival rate for various cancer patients in America is higher than other developed countries:

From Universal Healthcare Not So Great:

Fact No. 1: Americans have better survival rates than Europeans for common cancers.[1] Breast cancer mortality is 52 percent higher in Germany than in the United States, and 88 percent higher in the United Kingdom. Prostate cancer mortality is 604 percent higher in the U.K. and 457 percent higher in Norway. The mortality rate for colorectal cancer among British men and women is about 40 percent higher.

America also leads the world in cancer screenings:

And access to various medical procedures and diagnostic tests:

But prices are high in America relative to other countries, hence the rise of ‘medical tourism’, although there are risks associated with seeking healthcare abroad.

Government-level bureaucracy and waste, as well as inflated medical device and drug costs and billing by unscrupulous companies probably also plays a role although it seems intellectually lazy to to blame everything on that.

Scot also mentions that doctors are unhappy with their jobs:

Why Doctors Are Sick Of Their Profession – “American physicians are increasingly unhappy with their once-vaunted profession, and that malaise is bad for their patients”. The Daily Beast: How Being A Doctor Became The Most Miserable Profession – “Being a doctor has become a miserable and humiliating undertaking. Indeed, many doctors feel that America has declared war on physicians”. Forbes: Why Are Doctors So Unhappy? – “Doctors have become like everyone else: insecure, discontent and scared about the future.” Vox: Only Six Percent Of Doctors Are Happy With Their Jobs. Al Jazeera America: Here’s Why Nine Out Of Ten Doctors Wouldn’t Recommend Medicine As A Profession. Read these articles and they all say the same thing that all the doctors I know say – medicine used to be a well-respected, enjoyable profession where you could give patients good care and feel self-actualized. Now it kind of sucks.

But so too are lawyers. Maybe the problem is not that being a doctor causes depression, but the people who are drawn to these highly-competitive fields (such as law and medicine) are more susceptible to being depressed and ‘burning out’.

A common question is why can’t America have a single-payer healthcare system? The problem is, taxes would have to go up:

Americans are not interested in paying significantly higher income taxes to have ‘government-provided’ healthcare. National health insurance, or single payer, is a dream for many Americans, but if they actually comprehended what it will cost them, and the rest of the taxpayers, they may pause and reconsider.

For example, Britain has a relatively well-regarded universal healthcare system that every citizen pays for through national income tax. The tax rate for income tax and National Health Insurance in the United Kingdom (England) in 2015-16 for all citizens earning between zero and £31,785, considered basic-rate (flat rate) taxpayers, is a whopping 20 percent of their entire income. It is a full 15 percent more than America’s middle class tax rate and would entail a 20 percent tax hike for 45 percent of Americans who pay nothing now.

If a British citizen earns just one pence over that “basic threshold,” their income tax rate jumps to 40 percent up to £150,000. For income over that number the rate is 45 percent; all to cover the National Health plan administered solely by the government with a form of rationing

It gets much more complicated when you compare the US healthcare system with every other country, to try to figure out why, for example, Singapore spends so little of its GDP on healthcare. Singapore has much more favorable demographics than western nations, which could account for its lower healthcare spending relative to GDP:

To get a more definitive answer means having to compare demographics, R&D costs, drug costs, the types of diseases people get, quality of care, hospital quality, public vs. private expenditures, copay and out of pocket expenses, etc., for every country, to determine if America’s healthcare system is unduly overpriced. Due to the magnitude if this undertaking–and even if one were to prove that adjusted for the aforementioned factors, Americans do not pay too much–convincing people of this fact would be nearly impossible anyway due to politics and other partisan factors. Scott’s post covers education and healthcare, but just healthcare alone is daunting enough. This is one of those issues that seems impossible to ever resolve and is something we will just have to learn to live with.

The Healthcare Debate: Confronting Reality (End of Life Care and Costly Chronic Diseases)

Two weeks ago, I began writing the draft to this post, based on an Ann Coulter interview from February 3rd. And then on February 9th, Scott published his ‘cost disease’ article addressing rising healthcare costs. It just goes to show how we’re all thinking about the same stuff even though our inspirations come from different sources.

An excerpt from a radio show with Ann Coulter, Ann Coulter’s Report Card for President Trump’s First Two Weeks: ‘I Give Him an A+++’:

“That’s all it is, Alex. We just want the free market applied to health insurance, and forget about boring us with your sob-story cases. Okay, some of them are genuine sob stories; I don’t mean to be unkind about that, but it’s a tiny, tiny, tiny minority of people who just happen to have kids or they themselves are born with some horrible condition. Just let me buy it on the free market the same way I buy shoes, and books, and milk, and, by the way, car insurance, renters’ insurance, homeowners’ insurance,” Coulter exclaimed.

“The Soviets declared everything a fundamental human right, and you couldn’t get bread,” she said in response to the argument that citizens have a “right” to “free” health care. “Apparently describing something as a fundamental human right is the fastest way to make sure there is none of it, and it’s very expensive. Sell it on the free market, and you’ll have plenty of it, lots of choices, and everything you want.”

“I also love something what Trump got attacked for in the debates, which I also describe in In Trump We Trust: he said there are three categories. There are 319 million people in the country in the category you were just describing: ‘Please just let us buy this product,’ which is now illegal in America, to purchase. That’s the letter I got. My insurance, made illegal,” she said.

“Anyway, that’s 319 million. Then there are a few million who are incompetent, lazy, they won’t have health insurance. Okay, as Trump said in the debates, we’ll take care of them on a different system. Maybe it’s Medicaid for all of them. Maybe they’re poor, they’re young, they’re millennials. Whatever it is, we’re not going to let people die in the street – a sentence that both Ted Cruz and Rand Paul attacked Trump for. Of course, we’re going to let people die in the street, but you don’t have to wreck Ann’s health care to take care of them,” Coulter asserted.

“And then the third category, which is the tiniest category of all, are people who just got a band hand in life. We’re happy to help someone who was born with some genetic condition. That’s separate. We’ll pay for them. We could give them all $10 million, and it would be cheaper than the current Obamacare,” she said.

The above passage highlights the fundamental problem with the healthcare debate – both for the ‘left’ and, regrettably, the ‘right’, too. As is often the case, the same liberals who hold Darwin sacrosanct, Darwinism doesn’t apply to healthcare, where every life is sacred and worth saving at any cost. The same goes for welfare spending, in which billions of dollars every year are transferred from the ‘fit’ to pay for the ‘unfit’, whose survival depends on this assistance.

But doesn’t the left’s support of ‘choice’ and euthanasia contradict this? Not necessarily, because for the left, ‘choice’ is about lifestyle and ‘female empowerment’, not utilitarianism or pragmatism. As soon as soon as you frame the abortion or euthanasia debate in terms of practical, quantifiable matters such as healthcare spending, welfare and entitlement spending, crime, or heaven forbid, race, the left suddenly becomes pro-life.

For example, in 2015 UK presenter Katie Hopkins (the Brits to their credit at least invented HBD) was attacked by the left for pointing out the obvious but politically incorrect observation that dementia patients, who have no hope of survival (because dementia is incurable and tends to affect the elderly), are using public healthcare services that could otherwise go to patients with better prognostic factors. The mass stupidity in 2014-2015 that was the ALS ice bucket challenge was also backed by the left. In 2001, it was mainly the ‘left’ who attacked Levitt and Donohue for positing a link between abortion and crime reduction.

A diagnosis of Dementia, duchenne muscular dystrophy, or ALS, as awful and tragic as those diseases are, is Darwin’s way of saying ‘it’s time to go’ or ‘you’re not fit, sorry’. Granted, there are some on the left who support euthanasia from a utilitarian and pragmatic perspective, as a way to reduce both suffering and healthcare costs, but they seem to be the minority. Just as the ‘left’ extols Darwin in theory (and also as way of opposing Christianity, it seems) but opposes Darwinism in practice, some on the ‘right’ also seem to cling to fanciful beliefs about healthcare, and to an extent, abortion, as Ann Coulter’s reply demonstrates.

The ‘right’ champions free market solutions to healthcare, and in my own criticism of Obamacare I tend to agree a free market approach is better than a ‘statist’ one, but many on the right don’t want to accept that free market solutions may not yield outcomes that are socially, aesthetically, or morally desirable (also known as the ‘ick’ factor). ‘Free market’ just becomes a giant magical rug to sweep all problems under. There is nothing that can’t be solved with the magical wand of the ‘free market’, and the outcome is always one that is pleasing.

From a transcript: “it’s a tiny, tiny, tiny minority of people who just happen to have kids or they themselves are born with some horrible condition.”

But this tiny minority consumes a lot of resources…that’s the problem…and it’s not so tiny in many instances. For example, Ann ignores end-of-life care, which consumes 25% of Medicare spending. One out of every four Medicare dollars, more than $125 billion, is spent on services for the 5% of beneficiaries in their last year of life.

The cost of keeping the terminally ill alive

Last year, Medicare paid $55 billion just for doctor and hospital bills during the last two months of patients’ lives.

And it has been estimated that 20 to 30 percent of these medical expenses may have had no meaningful impact. Most of the bills are paid for by the federal government with few or no questions asked. This statistic is from a 60 Minutes story on “The Cost of Dying” and is one reason our healthcare system is in trouble.

Ann’s $10 million figure to cover rare genetic conditions is also hardly sufficient (unless it’s per patient, which would be too much). Nationally, treating ALS, DMD and MMD combined is $1.07 to $1.37 billion per year. This is a conservative figure–the actual cost is probably two to four times higher.

A minority of patients contributes to the bulk of healthcare spending:

This means adults with chronic diseases, cancer, end-of-life care, and, sadly, children with terminal conditions. Jim keeps mentioning drug addicts and vagrants, which are an easy target (because who likes drug addicts and vagrants), but this is only a fraction of the problem. Drug addiction abuse costs $75 billion annually to insurers, which is just 1/27 of the $2 trillion spent on total health care and 1/13 of the $1 trillion spent on the most costly of patients. [2]

In a free market system, defective products are either discounted or discarded, but this does not always apply to people, who are above this sorting process due to the invocation of ‘moral/ethical conscience’, which is supposed to override the free market–or–the free market is supposed to somehow, magically, cover such spending. A typical person has lifetime earnings of $1-2 million ($50k a year times 40 years). From a free market perspective, it makes sense to provide treatment for child or adult who has an entire (or most) lifetime to become economically productive. But it becomes much harder to justify care for children with rare genetic diseases, who will die before before becoming economically productive, or for the elderly who have no savings to pay for treatment and are well-past their ability to produce economic value. For clarity, we’re talking about ‘public goods’. A billionaire can afford whatever costly treatments he wants, but the question is how should public goods be rationed/allocated. ‘Rationing’ has become the third rail of policy discourse because it invokes Kafkaesque imagery of ‘death panels’, but there is no escaping the reality that all finite resources must in some way be rationed, whether it’s a free-market system or government-run system. Again, 5% of the US population accounts for 50% of healthcare spending–how does a free market approach, which is motivated by profits, handle so many unprofitable patients, in which there is no hope of recouping the often futile, palliative treatment costs?

And spending for Medicare and Medicaid is projected to be much higher both in nominal terms and relative to GDP:

To privatize healthcare means that the private sector would have to cover this spending, which likely means rates would have to go up and or healthcare would have to be denied in certain instances. It seems like wishful thinking to assume total privatization will lower costs, be profitable for insurers and providers, and provide healthcare for everyone who needs it, including costly incurable diseases and costly end-of-life care.

Any insurance program, either private or pubic, needs a lot of members to be profitable, because a minority of patients will consume the bulk of the costs. An obvious problem is it’s hard to motivate people, especially the young, to pay for heath insurance when they are healthy–people tend to want healthcare when they are sick but think they are invincible otherwise. Because there is an aversion to paying for something when it’s not immediately needed, an alternative privatization idea is to deduct healthcare costs out of the patient’s future earnings, but as mentioned above, for patients with terminal and or very costly diseases, this is unprofitable.

Even the assumption that privatization will significantly lower costs is on shaky grounds, as shown by Megan McArdle:

But we already have a public option. As mentioned, we have several. And Medicare doesn’t control costs noticeably better than the private sector does:

Medicaid controls costs significantly better. That’s because it’s a program for poor people who don’t vote much, and politicians don’t necessarily care if doctors refuse to take it. So states set reimbursement rates that are so low that you could pay more to take your kid to Panera than the government would pay for you to take him to see a general practitioner.

From 1990-2011, the difference in excess costs between ‘medicaid’ and ‘other’ (private) is just 1.7% vs. 1.5%.

Costs are rising to pay for so-called ‘futile care’. Instead of healthcare saving lives, it’s about prolonging death at great cost:

Kids With Costly Medical Issues Get Help, But Not Enough

“Katie hit a million [dollars] in her first year of life,” says Marcy Doderer, Katie’s mother. Katie used to require 24-hour nursing; now the nurse only comes at night, but it still costs almost $75,000 a year, by Marcy’s estimate. It’s a service that most private insurance doesn’t cover. It is, however, paid for by Katie’s Medicaid coverage—even though the family is well-off.

The sickest 2 million kids account for about 40 percent of Medicaid’s total spending on children. Many of these children have a combination of private insurance and Medicaid, and it can be challenging to coordinate care and coverage. Marcy Doderer, who until recently was the CEO of the children’s hospital in San Antonio, Texas, acknowledges that her job gives her family an advantage.

That’s a lot of money for a single child, when from a utilitarian standpoint the ‘greater good’ could be maximized by allocating the $1 million of medicaid assistance to multiple children who have better prognosis.

I go after the ‘left’ on this blog a lot. Now it’s the right’s turn, for foot-dragging on HBD-based solutions to healthcare (as well as crime and entitlement spending (as the ‘abortion, eugenics, welfare, and crime’ series shows [1])). The ‘sanctity of life’ can be very expensive, as the above example shows. The ‘right’, who complain about deficits and spending, need to confront this, just as the ‘left’ does, too. That’s why, despite being on the ‘right’, I agree that allowing children to be born with severe disease could be child abuse:

Such screening wouldn’t prevent all genetic disease (it would miss disease due to very rare or unknown mutations, or due to de novo mutations occurring in the child), but it would certainly have a dramatic impact on the number of children born with horrible diseases such as cystic fibrosis and Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

In earlier posts Abortion & Healthcare Policy and The Abortion Plan, I advocate incentive-based solutions, such as paying married couples who have inauspicious genetic factors to not procreate unless they have the financial means to care for a special-needs child.

Naturally there are objections to embryo screening among religious conservatives who believe that inflicting severe disease on children is the will of God – but why does the prospect raise such unease among even the secular community? I share Le Page’s puzzlement on this question, and would invite opponents to lay out any well-reasoned arguments against routine screening in the comments below.

Again, the ‘left’ has a love/hate relationship with science. But this also applies to some on the ‘right’ too. Naturally, people are squeamish at the idea of quantifying the value of human life, as explained in Abortion and Healthcare Policy:

Some people find the idea of utilitarianism, as well as thought experiments such as the trolley car, to be an affront to their moral sensibilities, since sometimes the most optimal allocation of a resource often comes at a cost to something someone else holds dear. Some are unsettled by the idea that the value of a human can be reduced to a number, but if you have insurance (health, auto, home) – that is exactly what it is, an attempt to assign a monetary value to a human life in order to price a policy, yet when the argument is framed differently (trolley car or abortion), these very people become mortified at the premise that human life does indeed have a finite value, or that some lives may be more valuable than others. ‘Pro life’ taken to its extreme would be mean no war and no death penalty – both positions many Republicans, who identify as ‘pro life’, support. So why does this contradiction exist? I suppose because they rationalize from a utilitarian standpoint that the possible loss of some innocent lives (the occasionally wrongly executed individual, soldiers dying, or collateral damage) indirectly serves a ‘greater good’ (preventing more deaths both directly and indirectly), justifying this utilitarian risk/reward trade-off.

And from Forbes, why is so much money spent on end of life care, when the evidence suggests it’s counterproductive?

It seems that no matter how much money you use during that last year/month, if the person is sick enough, the effort makes things worse. A lot of the money being spent is not only not helping, it is making that patient endure more bad experiences on a daily basis. The patient’s quality of life is being sacrificed by increasing the cost of death.

Why don’t more institutions move to palliative care quicker when they see the obvious trends in their patients? Joe Klein wrote a cover story for Time about his experience with his parents and their end-of-life experience. Anyone who has gone through a similar process can not only empathize, but will become emotional because that last year/month can be a genuinely awful experience for all concerned. So, with all this data and personal experience, why do we continue to reward a system that pushes life-at-all-costs instead of quality of life?

This is a good question. To put on my ‘Scott hat’ (in which I consider the other side of the argument), there is an anecdote about Robert Heinlein in which he was asked about cannibalism: if someone is dead, does it matter what we do with the body–to which Heinlein answered that we do not want to live in a society in which people have acquired a taste for human flesh. Similarly, do we want to live in a society where we euthanize, sterilize, or abort-away all our problems. This also invokes a ‘slippery slope’ argument: if we begin with those who are most inconvenient, why stop there. How about those who are only a ‘medium inconvenience’, and so on.

Going back to the idealism v. materialism post, a materialist may argue that consciousness and being are entirely physical (eliminative materialism), without spirit or a soul–hence a quantifiable, material value (economic or scientific) can be ascribed to individual life, justifying euthanasia and organ transplantation, as consciousness is inseparable from the brain, so if the brain empirically appears dead (diminished or absence of brain activity in response to stimuli), so too is consciousness and the body. This is the opposite view as espoused by dualism. An idealist, on the other hand, is not convinced, arguing that there are aspects of ‘being’ that are not physical (ontological argument). Epistemologically, an idealist may argue that there are imitations to what what we can know about consciousness or the value of human life, that can’t be measured by a machine or economic value (limitations of knowledge). In his mind, the idealist rationalizes that the patient has some form of sentience despite the empirical evidence showing otherwise.

The issue of fairness comes up–is it fair to deny life and birth to some.

A second reason is that diseases that are intractable now may become curable or treatable later, so by ‘giving up’, we not only deny hope for future patients, but technological and medical progress stagnates. The path of least resistance now may come at a greater cost later. Recent examples include childhood leukemia, thyroid cancer, and testicular caner, once fatal but now both highly curable. But given how costs are exploding, we better find more cures–fast.

However, life expectancy hasn’t budged much, excluding mortality within the first four years of life. Thomas Hobbes and John Adams lived to 90, a rarity even today (despite hundreds of billions spent every year trying to prolonging life). Ultimately, we cannot solve the healthcare crisis with wishful thinking…when a company is losing money, the usual response is to cut costs by discontinuing the divisions or services that are unprofitable. A restaurant, for example, may close stores. But the response by politicians is the opposite one, which is to continue what isn’t working.

Part 2 goes into greater detail about rising healthcare (and also education) costs.

[1] Related posts in the “abortion, eugenics, welfare, and crime” series:

Abortion and Crime – When Political Correctness and Partisan Politics Gets in the Way of Promising Research and Policy

Is partisanship holding back good policy in the abortion debate?

Could Republicans Endorse Eugenics?

[2] Jim’s approach is a purely rational, seldom citing links and data. Scott, despite being labeled a ‘rationalist’, actually much more of an empiricist, citing tons of links and data in his articles.

Rule by signaling

A meritocracy means taking the most competent and putting them in charge. Simple enough. But how does one determine competency? The problem is competence is determined ex post facto, through empirical evidence, in which case it may be too late. This means signaling is required, such as tests.

The “most common definition of meritocracy conceptualizes merit in terms of tested competency and ability, and most likely, as measured by IQ or standardized achievement tests.”[2] In government or other administration systems, meritocracy, in an administrative sense, is a system of government or other administration (such as business administration) wherein appointments and responsibilities are assigned to individuals based upon their “merits”, namely intelligence, credentials, and education, determined through evaluations or examinations.[3]

Hence meritocracy, in practice, often means rule by those who signal best, but a single word to describe this eludes me.

Materialism and Empircisim are Easy; Idealism is Hard

Empiricism vs Idealism:

Empiricism begins with the hypothesis that there is an objective reality independent of humanity and we may use inductive logic to learn about this reality through our senses. We can experiment and test the validity of our ideas. The scientific method is a method of empirical testing to prevent common fallacies and errors. Empiricism does not assume a priori knowledge. This is also called Philosophical Realism or materialism.

To recap some basic concepts, rationalists believe knowledge is acquired independently of sensory experience. Empiricists argue that knowledge is based on sensory perception. Rationalism involves ‘pure reason’ (priori knowledge); empiricism involves evidence (posteriori knowledge). Rationalism is top-down (deductive); empiricism is bottom-up (inductive).

Consider a stick in a glass of water. To the empiricist, the stick is broken because it visually appears so. However, when the empiricist dips his hand into the water, the stick is obviously not broken. To the rationalist, it’s not broken, but rather the water makes it seem so due to refraction. The rationalist defers to theory (refraction) to justify the stick not being broken, without having to dip his hand to see for himself.

But there are seldom ‘pure empiricists’ or ‘pure rationalists’–it’s usually a hybrid, in which Kant cleverly devised a philosophical device called the ‘synthetic a priori’ to reconcile this. Many empiricists don’t reject all theories of physics (such as Newton’s law of gravitation), if there is abundant experimental evidence to support them. Empiricism leads to theory, the latter which can be defined as an ‘object’ (which Kant called a noumenon), that exists outside of sense or perception. From The theory of phenomena and noumena:

For example, to explain why the wires in an electric toaster are hot, we invoke the underlying cause of an electric current in the wires; the toaster and its wires, and the heat, are phenomenal, and the electricity is noumenal. Or, in modern language, the toaster and the hot wires are empirical and the electricity is theoretical. As David Hume pointed out, there are no empirical causes, only correlations; all causes are underlying — noumenal — or theoretical. Theoretical science tries to describe the noumenal world, and thereby explain the findings of empirical science. Everything you read about molecules, atoms, electrons, quarks, the curvature of space-time, black holes, the Big Bang, etc. is about noumena.

This is related to Platonic idealism, which is different than Idealism as presented by philosophers such as George Berkeley. Platonic abstractions are not spatial, temporal, or mental; hence, they are not compatible with the latter idealism’s emphasis on mental existence. Plato’s Forms include numbers and geometrical figures, making them a theory of mathematical realism. This makes it a form of materialism, and is related to philosophical realism–the belief that the existence of reality is independent of our conceptual schemes, perceptions, linguistic practices, beliefs, etc.

Although realism and materialism are often used interchangeably, realism involves mathematics and Plato’s forms, which are things that are ‘real’ even though they are not physically so. A rationalist is a realist, because rationalists make use of abstractions (like math). The empiricist tends to reject these abstractions, and may gravitate towards materialist interpretations as being the basis of reality (such as dunking his or her hand in the water to verify that the stick isn’t broken, instead of deferring to refraction theory). But realism is like materialism, as the stick being intact is a property that exists outside of the mind, but realism is an abstract approach (use of theory) determine this knowledge (epistemology) and empiricism is sensory (literally, a hands-on approach). Hierarchically, realism is a subset of materialism. So while realism is materialistic, not all materialism is realism (empiricism and materialism, for example, being linked but the former distinct from realism).

Science involves ‘objects’ such as theories that exist independent of perception and mind. Religion is often associated with idealism in that, epistemologically, it requires faith–by ‘pure reason’ alone, establishing a ink between idealism and rationalism. Rationalism can be applied both in a religious context but also a scientific one.

Empiricism and realism are ‘easy’ because the former lends itself to ‘binary thinking’, specifically, verificationism (the doctrine that a proposition is only cognitively meaningful if it can be definitively and conclusively determined to be either true or false). Empiricism, unlike rationalism, takes the easy way out by never having to commit to a theory. If the empiricist can’t observe it through sense, he can simply reject it. But realism is also ‘easy’, in the synthetic sense, by reducing abstractions to objects that we take for grated as ‘true’. It’s easier to just accept that 1+1=2 than try to go further to understand why it’s so. For example, the statement, ‘rising life expectancy is good’. ‘Good’ is abstract and hard to define, besides it being implied (or objectified) that ‘good’ is contrasted from what is ‘bad’. ‘Life expectancy’ is also an object, as it is something that is measured scientifically and exists outside of sensory perception. Most of the media and pundits, whether it’s Bloomberg, Wall St. Journal, or The Economists, deal with things that can be categorized either ‘true’ or ‘false’ (such as ‘the economy is weak’ or ‘the economy is strong’), with evidence brought forth either opposing or supporting the initial premise. Or objects-as-issues (such as wealth inequality, economic growth), that are often reduced to a binary state of being either ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

Idealism tends to reject object-based reasoning. Although idealism may have a grand theory, vision, or narrative (such as eschatology), it doesn’t rely on empirical, sensory, or object-based means of supporting it. [Materialist philosophy also has 'grand narratives', an example being Marxism, which is based on economic theory (an object), not theology.] It avoids reductionism (in terms of rejecting scientific-reduction in the forms scientism, cognitivism, positivism; but it also rejects verificationism (which is a form of reductionism. Idealists aren’t too fond of empiricism, because it tends to be binary and reductive.)–but also idealism rejects low-information discourse, which is related to binary thinking) preferring complicated, nuanced, and circuitous forms of discourse and invoking teleology. For example, for idealist, civil dissenters fit within a ‘grand theory’ of societal collapse. But aren’t dissenters empirical evidence that agrees with ‘grand theory’? Yes, but it doesn’t matter, because to the idealists the reality has already been constructed in his mind. To be fair, this is similar to how physicists rationalize string theory, because the theory can always be modified to account for any evidence that could disprove it. Or in another way, for an idealist, everything is subsumed by the theory. Teleology is a reason or explanation for something in function of its end, purpose or goal. For example, a teleological explanation of why forks have prongs is that this design helps humans eat certain foods; stabbing food to help humans eat is what forks are for. Likewise, a teleological explanation for dissenters is not that they are having a bad day, but rather because they are actors of a grand eschatological narrative. For a materialist, rather then evidence being subsumed by theory, the theory keeps being modified or is so broad as to encompass everything (which is a criticism of string theory).

As an example of ‘easiness’, an empiricist, if asked to predict something, may predict the sun will rise and fall. This is virtually certain to be a correct prediction, based on his empirical observations of the sun rising and setting. A realist would arrive at the same conclusion based on his knowledge about geophysics and astronomy, but to the idealist he too is missing the point of the question, because predictions are not supposed to be ‘obvious’ and the realist is caving into reductionism, just as the empiricist also engages in reductionism. An idealist, counter to what the objectively-determined odds say, in his mind, chooses odds are different.

Predicting economic stability is likely a correct prediction (based on empirical evidence, specifically, economic data and historical data; and ‘microeconomic foundations’–an attempt to apply the principles of science and physics to economics, to make the latter more rigorous) but conflict with an idealist whose ‘grand vision’ is of instability or eschatology. But ‘reality’ and ‘truth’ regarding the social sciences can be hard to define. Two people can bring forth evidence to arrive at opposite conclusions regarding the same issue. It depends how such evidence is interpreted and it’s context. For example, nominally, the national debt is high, but interest payments are low relative to GDP. By avoiding objects and binaries (verificatonism), the idealist may avoid having his beliefs being falsified.

Idealism is a search for Absolute Truth. It assumes there is a design and purpose to the universe and the human mind, and by discovering this purpose they can understand everything.

Idealism creates teleology. Everything has a function and purpose, and therefore everything has a final cause. This world is highly deterministic. Idealists rely almost purely on deductive logic. They create an artificial set of governing axioms. They can then use deductive logic to answer any problem within their Idealist world.

The idealist, in his mind, knows what is true and is not searching for it. Truth (ontology) for the idealist exists in the mind; for the materialist, it’s in objects. Both sides can either bring forth axioms (rationalism) or empirical evidence (empiricism), both of which are under the category of epistemology.
I also disagree here:

Empiricism takes considerably more effort to understand reality, but the ideas it produces are more consistent even if knowledge remains incomplete. Empirical reality may seem dangerous, as it disproves some moral preconceptions in religions and ideologies. Is it not better to accept reality whether it is pleasing or not?…

A real theory can be practiced in reality. Electrical theory: light bulb. Evolution: Genetic Engineering. Creationism: Nothing. Marxism: 100 million dead, but otherwise nothing.

Although empiricism has pretense of knowledge (because of spokespeople like Dennett, Dawkins, Harris and Nye, who use the ‘scientific method’ as a very convenient crutch), idealism is harder because it doesn’t involve ‘shortcuts’ (such as mathematics, sensory perception , scientific method) that materialism and empiricism employ. For a scientist, a sufficiently low ‘p-value’ can be sufficient, but the idealist isn’t placated as easily, asking, ‘but what if…’ or questioning the validity of the data itself. Idealism involves more mental gymnastics (or teleology) to make empirical reality and theory agree (such as reconciling theology with evolution, or sporadic incidents of ‘civil unrest’ as being a harbinger of impending economic and social collapse, not merely some people having a bad day).

Also, the author seems to be stumbling into the oh so tempting trap of scientific absolutism, overplaying his hand. Marxism is actually a materialistic philosophy (because economic theory is at the core of human behavior and reality, not metaphysics), not an idealistic one.

A mistake made by naivete atheists who think they are being clever is assuming that there is dichotomy where Christianity must oppose science, when such a dichotomy doesn’t necessarily exist. Many Christians understand and accept physics and evolution, and it’s possible to be both a Christian and an engineer or a biologist. Religious philosopher David Ray Griffin discusses this in his book God Exists But Gawd Does Not:

David Ray Griffin argues that progress on this issue will be impossible unless we distinguish between two radically different ideas of a divine creator, which he calls “Gawd” and “God.” Whereas there is overwhelming evidence against the existence of Gawd, there is also overwhelming evidence for the reality of God.

Atheists commonly default to this construct or strawman version of god, which the author calls ‘gawd’. An idealist may be well-versed in theory (such as evolution, quantum mechanics, and relativity) but understand that those things are merely approximations of reality, and that there will always be phenomena that cannot be explained by theory. For example, why don’t galaxies spill apart, because they are held together by ‘dark matter’, but the problem is physicists have no idea what dark matter is even though it’s thought to make up five sixths of the universe’s mass. A materialist may argue that there are no phenomena that can’t be explained by theory.

Related, Sean Carroll, in an excellent post Physicists Should Stop Saying Silly Things about Philosophy, opposes attempts to reduce philosophy to competition against science, or that how philosophy must oppose science, arguing that they can complement each other (a philosophical question being answered using physics), a view echoed by American philosopher of science Tim Maudlin, whose work on physics also incorporates philosophical elements.

Philosophy is useful for organizing ideas, beliefs, and concepts about the non-tangible, non-sensory world–things such as politics, epistemology, religion, morality, ethics, perception, consciousness, etc.–into some form of hierarchy or framework, analogous to the concept of categories in math.

Although reductionism is often frowned upon by idealists, it’s hard to avoid objects and binary thinking when trying to be persuasive. In trying to convey an opinion/perspective/declaration about something, that likely implies one opposes its opposite. There was a recent debate on Scott Aaronson’s blog, spawning significant related discussion elsewhere, but also a lot of internecine disagreement. Just saying ‘immigration is bad’ is too simple (object-based reasoning). The appeal of mathematics is once something is proven (either true or false), further discussion is no longer necessary (for that specific math concept, at least), whereas debates in the social sciences an liberal arts can be unending, as they don’t as easily yield to binary outcomes.

Trump Presidency Predictions and Significance: Economics, Immigration, Culture, and Endgame

From Social Matter: Reactionary Political Theory On Contemporary America

Our question is the following: what is the significance of Trump’s victory? What does it mean for the Modern Structure?

To answer the first question: a change in national sentiment. To answer the second, not much.

Trump’s rise definitely ties into a ‘shared narrative’ of a national frustration with the direction of the country, a distrust of elites, and opposition to the ‘status quo’ both in terms of economics and immigration.

But is Trump a legitimate threat? Maybe not so much.

Part 1. Economics & Finance The stock market keeps making new highs…if Trump is supposed to be a threat to the establishment, the market is not buying it. I think the market is correct and that most of this is just saber rattling , although we’ll see. The stock market is a good real-time barometer of the well-being and confidence of financial elites. If elites lose confidence, they will sell stocks and move to treasury bonds, corporate bonds, gold, or cash. ‘Challenging’ the elite is the first part; ‘doing’ is much harder. Elites are used to being challenged, and are also used to getting their way.

Tariffs are not that a big deal and more symbolic than anything, although could be problematic if overdone. Trump’s pledges to keep jobs in America seem seems to involve overly generous subsidies and or corporate welfare that may have unintended/perverse consequences. For example, the Cobra Effect.

Related, a major criticism of the Trump Carrier deal is creates a perverse incentive for companies threaten to outsource more jobs than originally planned, to get subsidies for jobs that they originally had no intent to move.

Trump is a businessman, and businessmen generally don’t like to lose money. Trump (to borrow from Taleb) has a lot of ‘skin in the game’ in that his own personal fortune is closely tied to the overall health of the US economy.

Motivated by self-preservation, I predict Trump will avoid sweeping economic policy that may cause harm both to his own personal wealth and the overall US economy, instead, as Scott noted, focusing on ‘symbolic gestures’ that get a lot of media coverage but on the grand scheme of things don’t move the needle much.

So overall, the finance-elite probably will come out ahead in a Trump administration, barring some sort of major recession or bear market (which may or may not be attributable to Trump).

Part 2. Immigration Regarding immigration, now this is where the ‘elites’ are sightly more scared, although I don’t think they have too much to worry about. Trump’s executive order was a setback, but the 9th Circuit struck it down, so it’s off to the Supreme Court, but the odds don’t look too good:

But given that the Supreme Court currently lacks its ninth member, there a real chance of a 4-4 split on the bench along ideological lines, which would have the effect of affirming the ruling of the 9th Circuit, inflicting a more permanent blow to the new administration.

Even if it passes, there will be too many holes, exemptions, and waivers. And as everyone has already noted, the ‘ban’ does not include the countries that are most responsible for state-sponsored Islamic terrorism, such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, UAE, and Egypt. Sunni Islam is the bigger threat, but Trump’s ban mostly targets Shia countries. Also, many instances of Islamic terrorism in America have been perpetrated by second generation immigrants from middle or upper-class backgrounds. From A Case Study in Conversion to Terror (UPDATED):

That a first generation of Muslim immigrants is often succeeded by a radical second generation has been documented by Foreign Policy, PBS, and by statisticians in Denmark. The first generation came to America or to Europe for reasons they felt strongly enough to make the move. They understood they were electing to move to a society that was less Islamic, and accepted the trade off. Their children, born in the West, did not experience the realities that made their parents leave the old world. They reject the laws and customs of their new society as being opposed to their Islamic identity. The Danish statistics found that second-generation Muslim immigrants are 218% more inclined to crime than their parents’ generation.

Furthermore, obviously, it doesn’t deal with Mexican immigration, which is what voters specifically had in mind when Trump was campaigning on immigration control. It’s still very early in Trump’s first term, so he has plenty of time to get to that. But given how Trump’s travel ban has been neutered (and was porous to begin with), deportations and restrictions against Mexican immigration similarly faces a major uphill battle. That’s the problem with democracy and progressivism: you can’t undo it. It’s like an escalator: either you get off or keep going up, but you cannot turn back.

So the amnesty-elites are worried, but too soon to call it a defeat for them.

Part 3. Culture wars Given the GOP’s long history of losing ground on culture issues, the prognosis is not good. Trump campaigned as an ‘immigration warrior’, not a ‘culture warrior’, and his past views on these issues is cloudy, such as being pro-choice at one point. He is also indifferent about same-sex marriage, and may or may not try to overturn Roe v. Wade. Many of the people close to Trump and part of his ‘economic circle’ aren’t big on culture issues.

Part 4. Endgame Overall, to reiterate, my expectations for Trump, especially regarding economic policy, are muted. That’s that’s at least for the next 4-8 years. Although I said earlier that progressivism is irreversible, technically things can change, although it will be a marathon, not a sprint.

There are two possibilities of ‘reset’: ‘quick and sudden’ (such as economic collapse, natural disaster, nuclear war, or other crisis) or ‘slow and steady’ (gradual change in sentiment and leadership). The former may not always be the best, if the elites do the rebuilding, which was the case in the 30′s following the Great Depression in which FDR, a major leftist, rose to power and whose reforms far outlasted his four terms. The 2008 financial crisis and 911 also saw the elites rebound to a stronger position than before.

The ‘slow and steady’ approach may be more viable. A notable example was the transformation of the Rome Empire from paganism to Christianity, which unfolded over a 100-year period, from around 300 to 400 AD. Until Constantine’s conversion and legalization of Christianity in 312, Christianity was mostly relegated to the fringes, practiced by only 10% of the Roman population, who feared persecution, in contrast to paganism which dominated. By around 400, paganism was outlawed. Such an ideological transformation can occur in America, and will also take a similarly long time. What is required is that ‘alt right’ politicians (who are more extreme than Trump and don’t care about financial self-preservation) accede and maintain control of the major branches of government long enough to have the Supreme Court replaced and restocked, eventually allowing constitutional amendments to be reversed, and possibly new ones to be added that increases the power executive branch–or-possibly does away with the existing system of government all together. Over 60-100 year timetable, this is possible, although still unlikely. The odds will go up if there are exogenous factors to speed this process

Related to this theme of collapse, check out And then what happens?

A Letter to ‘Trump Haters’

I address this letter to ‘Trump haters’, not ‘Hillary supporters’, because based on personal observations, some of Trump’s biggest detractors also hate Hillary just as much, if not more (for denying Bernie Sanders the nomination, who would have been a better candidate).

Trump’s win has elicited a visceral, almost primal, rebuke from otherwise rational, smart people that I otherwise respect and or even agree with on some certain issues.

From Scott Sumner of Money Illusion:

And Jeff Atwood of Coding Horror:

Brad Delong, who recently did an AMA on Reddit, also voiced a lot of concern over Trump, but at least was far more polite about it, setting a good example of how to criticize specific policy without resorting to ad hominem attacks against Trump and his supporters.

I agree with these anti-Trump economists on certain things–about the US dollar, deficits, the US economy, and about how Peter Schiff and other doom and gloom ‘Austrian alarmists’ tend to be wrong more often than not. By ‘agree’, what I mean is that they are closer to being ‘right’ (or less wrong) even though I may not, personally, like it. Drad Delong is closer to being correct regarding the ‘free trade debate‘ than Vox Day even though I wish Vox Day were right. Rationality and the ‘pursuit of the truth’ means we need to accept the world as it is, not how we want it to be. By better-understanding reality, one can be more fruitful in not only predicting but optimizing the present situation to his or her own advantage. It sounds trite to say, but knowledge (and understanding) really is power. So even though we lie on different points on the political spectrum, we both seek islands of truth and rationality in what is otherwise a sea of media nonsense, misinformation, and sensationalism. That’s the ‘common ground’ here, that we can both agree on.

And we can both agree that Hillary was a lousy candidate who ran an equally lousy, uninspiring campaign that was backed by corporate interests instead of the interests of voters, doing a disservice to both her party and supporters. From Why 2016 Seemed Like the Worst Year Ever:

…Hillary Clinton campaigned on the absurd slogan that “America is great because America is good” and was so convinced of her own inevitable coronation as the khaleesi of corporate feminism that she didn’t even bother campaigning in Michigan. Half the electorate stayed home, and a few million useful idiots for a bargain-bin…

Going back to Trump, yes, 2016 sucked for a lot of people. For Sanders supporters (for obvious reason); for myself, other reasons. Many beloved celebrities died. The situation Syria deteriorated. ‘Brexit’ left a lot of people divided, almost literally. We are on this boat together, and although we disagree on specific issues or policy implementation, we can both agree the economic direction of the country for the past decade or two has gone in a direction that, for better or worse, has benefited too few.

Now the compromise: between 2009-2015 Obama did things we ‘The Right’ opposed, but we got through it. More importantly, we didn’t make our opposition too personal (and we will take back the ‘birtherism’ if you can take back the part about Trump being Hitler). And admittedly, Trump can be rough on the edges and uninhibited, but is a departure from the tradition of bland and predictable politics (during the primaries, democrats voted against Hillary for the same reasons republicans voted for Trump).

Trump, in many ways, is the ‘inverse Obama’, embodying ‘hope and change’ for his millions of voters who felt, and justly so, ignored by ‘politics as usual’. Yes, Hillary won the popular vote, but 62,979,879 Americans voted for Trump. ‘Unity’ means bringing everyone above the fold in the ‘national debate’, not just those with whom you agree with. The 2017 Berkeley riots, was, regrettably, a missed opportunity to go in this much-needed direction.

Avoid Individual Stocks

Billionaire Warren Buffett discusses the book that changed his life

The reality is, it was a lot easier in the 1950′s-1990′s to make money with stock picking (as Buffett did) than today, because in the past stocks tended to exhibit what is called ‘Serial Correlation’ (which in layman-speak means the past predicts the future. Two ‘up-days’ will likely be followed by a third, etc.), which made momentum and picking strategies more viable. Nowadays, with the exception of a handful of stocks (like Facebook, Google, and Amazon (all of which I have recommended for years here)), the vast majority of stocks are very erratic in terms of performance. It’s not uncommon for individual stocks to fall 20-50% for no reason or for missing earnings sightly, and then never recover again. This happened with Research in Motion, Sketchers, Kors, Fit Bit, GoPro, Fossil, and Under Armor…the list goes on and on.

And it bears repeating, 95% of day traders become insolvent within five years. Individual stocks pickers, swing traders, and momentum traders don’t fare much better.

In the 1950-90′s individual stocks would rise 1,000% in a 2-3 year period, and then keep the gains. But nowadays it’s very rare for any individual stock to go up more than 200% in a 2-year period, and then, as the prior examples show, the stock will inevitably get chopped to pieces for almost no good reason. This is probably because hedge funds, desperate for any meager ‘alpha’ in what has become an impenetrably efficient market and economy, are chasing the latest ‘hot stock’, only to dump it at the tip of a hat months later. These funds have no loyalty to the company or shareholders and are just chasing bandwagons. Also Buffett has the advantage of special ‘preferred stock’ that ordinary investors don’t get, which guarantees he makes a profit in virtually all possible circumstances.

The S&P 500 has risen over 200% from the depths of the crisis, from a level of 660 in 2009 when it seemed like capitalism was going to die, to 2300 today. The market has much further upside: profit margins and earnings are rising, consumer spending and exports are strong, valuations are still tame, Trump’s spending will provide a further economic tailwind, and interest rates are low. There is no reason to create needless complications by stock picking when one can simply buy the index (such as the S&P 500 or the Nasdaq 100) and make more money with less risk.