First, the praise for Sully.
Those liberals were not even willing to discuss the genetic inferiority of African-Americans! But perhaps McArdle was not referring to Sullivan's racist beliefs? Well, she has discussed the matter in the past as well.
Long ago, when blogging was a fresh new form that attracted a lot of chin-stroking journalism, Glenn Reynolds said something that stuck with me: Journalism is a lecture; blogging is a conversation. That's not as true as it used to be, and it gets less true every day, as old bloggers leave and are not replaced. Ezra Klein attributes much of this to social media, which is certainly part of the answer; Facebook does not reward Part Seven of a back-and-forth about affirmative action. It wants neat, self-contained, authoritative statements about The Way the World Is, preferably ones that bolster your ideological commitments by eschewing caveats, ambiguity or serious engagement with the other side. As I frequently joke with my writer friends, the ideal blog post for the social media world would be headlined: "Everything You Already Believe Is Completely Correct, and Here's Some Math You Won't Understand That Proves It."
I imagine that a number of bloggers breathed a sigh of relief when the form became less conversational -- no need to respond to all those uncomfortable questions the other side is raising! The great thing about Andrew was that he kept up the conversation. He is passionate in argument, and he and I have had some fierce disagreements over the years. But right up to the end, he kept asking uncomfortable questions and offering answers from both sides. That's pretty rare, and pretty admirable, and I'm deeply sad that one last vestige of the old days is soon to be no more.
Lunch hour questions
One more post before I go back to work.
I'm reading the excellent Left Hooks, Right Crosses, a collection of political writing from left and right edited by the inimitable Christopher Hitchens and Christopher Caldwell. There are a number of essays on The Bell Curve, which I have read. I am the only person I know who has done so, and also, the only person I know without an opinion on its veracity. I keep meaning to re-read it, and see if I form an opinion, but I haven't the time.
What struck me is this: the arguments against the Bell Curve seem, overall, to be very poor. I recall reading Stephen Jay Gould's piece on it in the New Yorker, which literally flabbergasted me; it seemed such an obvious fabrication of selective quotation, half-truths, and statistical mumbo-jumbo that any reader who had read the Bell Curve would indignantly reject it. But of course, no one did reject it. No one read the book. They took Stephen Jay Gould's word for it, because he was Stephen Jay Gould. (I want to state here that this was a long time ago, and without access to Lexis-Nexis, I'm going on memory; it's possible that the piece is better than I remember it. But while it's possible I got the statistics wrong, I recall several instances of really egregious selective quotation that couldn't have been accidental. If SJG needed to resort to such tactics to refute the work, how right could he really have been?)
The strongest item I've seen is questioning the separated-twin studies from which Herrenstein and Murray draw their conclusions; several pieces argued that twins who were allegedly raised in different environments were in fact being kept by close family members. This is very important, and would be even stronger if the writers had mentioned how many children out of the study were being kept near each other.
All the pieces against them were marred by gratuitous name calling and vitriolic denunciations of anyone who would even consider the possibility that such a thing were true. I don't recall enough detail about the book to have an opinion one way or another. But as Charles Murtaugh often says, the world is not here to please you. It is possible that there are vast, heritable differences in IQ. It's also possible that there aren't. The problem that no one seems to have addressed is what we're supposed to do if, as Murray argues, IQ is important, even if none of it is hereditary.
The problem with environment is that, from what I know, it seems to be most important in the years before seven, in terms of actually shaping aptitude. And the overwhelmingly important environment is home.
[yip yip yip]
So while people who attacked the idea that IQ is strongly heritable seem to think that this makes the problem less intractable, I'd say it makes it rather more. We're going to have genetic engineering to overcome the former within the next hundred years, I'd bet. But I think we'd all be frightened of the kind of social engineering that would overcome the latter.
The Gould response destroying The Bell Curve was a thing of beauty and McArdle's criticism of it is wrong and inane. But the more important point is McArdle's bland assertion that it's possible that African-Americans are genetically inferior to White Americans, she's not sure yet because she hasn't formed an opinion, which she might do if she studies it matter further. And the people who said that the book was wrong were biased or didn't read it.
Normal people would dismiss any claims of white genetic superiority out of hand. Not only is the belief in African-American genetic inferiority scientific nonsense, but it's obviously untrue as well. From an article by Sam Pritchard, in regard to Jonathan Chait's whining about criticism on Twitter:
Let me explain what it means to believe that an average IQ of 85 accurately represents the inborn intelligence of the black population of America. It means that 16% of black people—one in seven—are intellectually disabled, or what used to be called “mentally retarded.” It means that one in four African Americans are borderline intellectually disabled. It means that nearly half of Sub-Saharan Africans are intellectually disabled. And it means that this is all the unavoidable genetic destiny of black people. Suddenly, Saletan’s position doesn’t seem so reasonable after all, and one can see how black thinkers like Brittney Cooper or Ta-Nehisi Coates find it impossible and unreasonable.
As Coates eloquently put it, it becomes apparent that entertaining this notion as reasonable requires living “in the world of myth” that privilege allows people like Saletan to inhabit. Actually knowing a substantial number of black people on an intimate level (as Coates and Cooper do) would have surely shown Saletan, prior to writing his ill-advised and vile column, that such arguments were flatly nonsensical. One can also see why black thinkers like Coates and Cooper are unwilling to engage such ideas respectfully; that someone could treat such ideas as plausible suggests an irreconcilable gap in fundamental knowledge, values, worldview, and experiences.
So Chait, by arguing that all ideas merit the respect of good-faith Enlightenment discourse, exhibits dishonesty. He, like all human beings, excludes many positions from his notion of what is reasonable, and dismisses them summarily. He even does it within the very piece where he pleads for a democratic ideal of reasoned discourse in which his ideas are never dismissed—and, incredibly, some of the ideas he rejects flippantly are indeed reasonable. Chait shrugs off these ideas perhaps more subtly and in a more tonally-restrained style than the PC discourse he criticizes, but it is no less galling to those being dismissed, and it is no less a tactic of ideological policing. Again, we find that Chait is primarily uncomfortable with being subject to the dismissal that he, as a centrist, assumed he was entitled to dole out and immune from receiving. That assumption is so ingrained that he doesn’t even recognize his own language as the dismissive policing of ideology that it is.
McArdle also decided that Those People (you know who) were poor because they didn't marry and they didn't marry because Those Male People were too, shall we say, hypersexualized which no doubt just appears to be a racist trope.
I've been doing a lot of research on poverty and inequality recently, and one of the major factors behind both turns out to be having kids out of wedlock.
There's clearly a subculture in our society for which the marriage ethos -- the social pressure on women, and particularly on men, to get married, or be in a long term relationship that looks in all important respects very like marriage -- has been destroyed.
My own time in the inner city leaves me with some sympathy for what the Bush plan is trying to achieve. Inner-city kids want and need dads, and while marriage is no panacea (Ken's parents were married), stable marriages are the surest way to provide them. Expanding economic opportunity is clearly a big part of the solution, but probably not the answer in whole, given the hurdles to fatherhood and marriage posed by community norms. Wanting to marry only when you can do it on a tropical beach is like wanting to work only when you can start at $100,000 a year -- that is, not to want it in any meaningful sense. Even as teenagers, Jewell's and Angie's kids talk of wanting kids someday, but dismiss marriage out of hand. ''That'd be too plain -- like you'd have to see the same woman every day,'' Jewell's son Tremmell said. Angie's son DeVon, who is 16, said, ''I need some little me's''- children. But, he added, ''I just can't see myself being with one woman.'' One lesson of the 90's -- from the declines in smoking and teenage pregnancy to the plunging welfare rolls -- is that cultural signals matter, so even public-education campaigns aren't to be dismissed out of hand.
Megan McArdle would never call an African-American a bad name or attempt to lynch one. She would just do her very best to ensure that they suffer for their "choices." Incentives matter, you know.
Poor women want to get married just as much as middle class women do, but the social environment they live in just doesn't seem to enable it. Marriage seems to be better for everyone, but can the institution regenerate itself? And if not, what can? Predictibly, I don't expect any government campaign to amount to much -- the government is best at writing checks, not changing people, and besides, my skin gets all crawly when the government starts telling people how to live. But what then?
How does Megan McArdle form these opinion? Fortunately she let us know recently.
But the problem with the old model of blogging is not just social media; it's that blogging is exhausting. Two or three items a day doesn't sound like a lot, but it takes a long time just to find something you want to write about. And the slowly dying ecosystem of other blogs makes it harder, because there's no longer a conversation you can just easily hook into. Instead of plopping yourself down at a table where people are already talking, you have to wander through a room filled with people who are speaking to an audience through a megaphone and decide which of these oratorial topics might interest your own audience and a few thousand of their Facebook friends. It's much lonelier, and consumes more energy, than it was in days of yore. This is why I spend so much time on my comments section; it is the one remainder of the old back-and-forth that made me love blogging in the first place.
Most of us, one way or another, stopped doing what we used to do. I write fewer, longer items; others stopped blogging entirely. Andrew kept up the volume, even increased it, but by the end, it took a staff of 10 to do it. It's no wonder he burned out; the wonder is that it took so long.
Once upon a time McArdle could depend on Andrew Sullivan and Charles Murray to find out just how inferior African-Americans actually are. Instead of echoing whatever other conservatives blog about, McArdle is now forced to find her own topics and boy, is it tedious! Not that she would ever give up the money. It beats working for a living.
This is the method by which McArdle decided that we could never impede the drug corporations' search for ever-higher profits. She just knew it had to be true even if she really didn't know. Her authorities said so.
Why I am desperately, desperately afraid of Kerry's health care planAlex Tabarrok tells us what sort of effect price controls are likely to have on pharmaceutical development:
Acemoglu and Linn's paper is formally about a different issue; the effect of market size on innovation. What they find is that a 1 percent increase in the potential market size for a drug leads to an approximately 4 percent increase in the growth rate of new drugs in that category. In other words, if you are sick it is better to be sick with a common disease because the larger the potential market the more pharmaceutical firms will be willing to invest in research and development. Misery loves company.
Although they don't mention it, this finding has implications for price controls. In the pharmaceutical market the major costs are all fixed costs (they don't vary much with market size) so profit =P*Q-F. Acemoglu and Linn look at changes in Q but a 1% change in P has exactly the same effects on profits, and thus presumably on R&D, as a 1% change in Q.
We can expect, therefore, that a 1% reduction in price will reduce the growth rate of new drug entries by 4% and a 10% reduction in price will reduce new drug entries by 40%. That is a huge effect. I suspect that the authors have overestimated the effect but even if it were one-half the size would you be willing to trade a 10% reduction in price for a 20% reduction in the growth rate of new drugs? No one who understands what these numbers mean would think that is a good deal.
As someone who is hoping to extend her lifespan, and quality of life, through the miracle of modern pharmaceuticals, this is frankly terrifying. I am currently enjoying unparalleled lung health through a new drug, Singulair, that might well not have been developed if even modest price controls were in place; family members and friends are similarly excited about Advair, the combination bronchiodilator/steroid which is also a new development.
I probably will not vote for either Kerry or Bush. But as I consider whether one might be the lesser of two evils, I am struck by the fact that my disagreements with Bush are basically short term ones, which are unlikely to substantially outlast his administration, the conduct of the war on Iraq being chief among them. (Or they are things on which there is basically no daylight between him and John Kerry).
Megan McArdle worked her butt off to destroy Obamacare because she thought she might suffer if others were helped. The political is personal. Her views on the (possible!) inferiority of African-Americans is based on the conservative drivel she read, which she assumed was correct because it told her wanted she wanted to hear.
Oh, his foriegn policy decisions will certainly have lasting repercussions, but I don't think that they will be as long-lasting as the repercussions if John Kerry succeeds in further nationalising health care, or as John Kerry's supreme court appointments are likely to be. Is it worth it to give up future drug advancements in order to punish Bush for screwing up in Iraq? I'm surprised at how few people seem to be seriously considering this question.