Book Club: The Code Economy, Chapter 11: Education and Death

Welcome back to EvX’s book club. Today we’re reading Chapter 11 of The Code Economy, Education.

…since the 1970s, the economically fortunate among us have been those who made the “go to college” choice. This group has seen its income row rapidly and its share of the aggregate wealth increase sharply. Those without a college education have watched their income stagnate and their share of the aggregate wealth decline. …

Middle-age white men without a college degree have been beset by sharply rising death rates–a phenomenon that contrasts starkly with middle-age Latino and African American men, and with trends in nearly every other country in the world.

It turns out that I have a lot of graphs on this subject. There’s a strong correlation between “white death” and “Trump support.”

White vs. non-white Americans

American whites vs. other first world nations

source

But “white men” doesn’t tell the complete story, as death rates for women have been increasing at about the same rate. The Great White Death seems to be as much a female phenomenon as a male one–men just started out with higher death rates in the first place.

Many of these are deaths of despair–suicide, directly or through simply giving up on living. Many involve drugs or alcohol. And many are due to diseases, like cancer and diabetes, that used to hit later in life.

We might at first think the change is just an artifact of more people going to college–perhaps there was always a sub-set of people who died young, but in the days before most people went to college, nothing distinguished them particularly from their peers. Today, with more people going to college, perhaps the destined-to-die are disproportionately concentrated among folks who didn’t make it to college. However, if this were true, we’d expect death rates to hold steady for whites overall–and they have not.

Whatever is affecting lower-class whites, it’s real.

Auerswald then discusses the “Permanent income hypothesis”, developed by Milton Friedman: Children and young adults devote their time to education, (even going into debt,) which allows us to get a better job in mid-life. When we get a job, we stop going to school and start saving for retirement. Then we retire.

The permanent income hypothesis is built into the very structure of our society, from Public Schools that serve students between the ages of 5 and 18, to Pell Grants for college students, to Social Security benefits that kick in at 65. The assumption, more or less, is that a one-time investment in education early in life will pay off for the rest of one’s life–a payout of such returns to scale that it is even sensible for students and parents to take out tremendous debt to pay for that education.

But this is dependent on that education actually paying off–and that is dependent on the skills people learn during their educations being in demand and sufficient for their jobs for the next 40 years.

The system falls apart if technology advances and thus job requirements change faster than once every 40 years. We are now looking at a world where people’s investments in education can be obsolete by the time they graduate, much less by the time they retire.

Right now, people are trying to make up for the decreasing returns to education (a highschool degree does not get you the same job today as it did in 1950) by investing more money and time into the single-use system–encouraging toddlers to go to school on the one end and poor students to take out more debt for college on the other.

This is probably a mistake, given the time-dependent nature of the problem.

The obvious solution is to change how we think of education and work. Instead of a single, one-time investment, education will have to continue after people begin working, probably in bursts. Companies will continually need to re-train workers in new technology and innovations. Education cannot be just a single investment, but a life-long process.

But that is hard to do if people are already in debt from all of the college they just paid for.

Auerswald then discusses some fascinating work by Bessen on how the industrial revolution affected incomes and production among textile workers:

… while a handloom weaver in 1800 required nearly forty minutes to weave a yard of coarse cloth using a single loom, a weaver in 1902 could do the same work operating eighteen Nothrop looms in less than a minute, on average. This striking point relates to the relative importance of the accumulation of capital to the advance of code: “Of the roughly thirty-nine-minute reduction in labor time per yard, capital accumulation due to the changing cost of capital relative to wages accounted for just 2 percent of the reduction; invention accounted for 73 percent of the reduction; and 25 percent of the time saving came from greater skill and effort of the weavers.” … “the role of capital accumulation was minimal, counter to the conventional wisdom.”

Then Auerswald proclaims:

What was the role of formal education in this process? Essentially nonexistent.

Boom.

New technologies are simply too new for anyone to learn about them in school. Flexible thinkers who learn fast (generalists) thus benefit from new technologies and are crucial for their early development. Once a technology matures, however, it becomes codified into platforms and standards that can be taught, at which point demand for generalists declines and demand for workers with educational training in the specific field rises.

For Bessen, formal education and basic research are not the keys to the development of economies that they are often represented a being. What drives the development of economies is learning by doing and the advance of code–processes that are driven at least as much by non-expert tinkering as by formal research and instruction.

Make sure to read the endnotes to this chapter; several of them are very interesting. For example, #3 begins:

“Typically, new technologies demand that a large number of variables be properly controlled. Henry Bessemer’s simple principle of refining molten iron with a blast of oxygen work properly only at the right temperatures, in the right size vessel, with the right sort of vessel refractory lining, the right volume and temperature of air, and the right ores…” Furthermore, the products of these factories were really one that, in the United States, previously had been created at home, not by craftsmen…

#8 states:

“Early-stage technologies–those with relatively little standardized knowledge–tend to be used at a smaller scale; activity is localized; personal training and direct knowledge sharing are important, and labor markets do not compensate workers for their new skills. Mature technologies–with greater standardized knowledge–operate at large scale and globally, market permitting; formalized training and knowledge are more common; and robust labor markets encourage workers to develop their own skills.” … The intensity of of interactions that occur in cities is also important in this phase: “During the early stages, when formalized instruction is limited, person-to-person exchange is especially important for spreading knowledge.”

This reminds me of a post on Bruce Charlton’s blog about “Head Girl Syndrome“:

The ideal Head Girl is an all-rounder: performs extremely well in all school subjects and has a very high Grade Point Average. She is excellent at sports, Captaining all the major teams. She is also pretty, popular, sociable and well-behaved.

The Head Girl will probably be a big success in life…

But the Head Girl is not, cannot be, a creative genius.

*

Modern society is run by Head Girls, of both sexes, hence there is no place for the creative genius.

Modern Colleges aim at recruiting Head Girls, so do universities, so does science, so do the arts, so does the mass media, so does the legal profession, so does medicine, so does the military…

And in doing so, they filter-out and exclude creative genius.

Creative geniuses invent new technologies; head girls oversee the implementation and running of code. Systems that run on code can run very smoothly and do many things well, but they are bad at handling creative geniuses, as many a genius will inform you of their public school experience.

How different stages in the adoption of new technology and its codification into platforms translates into wages over time is a subject I’d like to see more of.

Auerswald then turns to the perennial problem of what happens when not only do the jobs change, they entirely disappear due to increasing robotification:

Indeed, many of the frontier business models shaping the economy today are based on enabling a sharp reduction in the number of people required to perform existing tasks.

One possibility Auerswald envisions is a kind of return to the personalized markets of yesteryear, when before massive industrial giants like Walmart sprang up. Via internet-based platforms like Uber or AirBNB, individuals can connect directly with people who’d like to buy their goods or services.

Since services make up more than 84% of the US economy and an increasingly comparable percentage in coutnries elsewhere, this is a big deal.

It’s easy to imagine this future in which we are all like some sort of digital Amish, continually networked via our phones to engage in small transactions like sewing a pair of trousers for a neighbor, mowing a lawn, selling a few dozen tacos, or driving people to the airport during a few spare hours on a Friday afternoon. It’s also easy to imagine how Walmart might still have massive economies of scale over individuals and the whole system might fail miserably.

However, if we take the entrepreneurial perspective, such enterprises are intriguing. Uber and Airbnb work by essentially “unlocking” latent assets–time when people’s cars or homes were sitting around unused. Anyone who can find other, similar latent assets and figure out how to unlock them could become similarly successful.

I’ve got an underutilized asset: rural poor. People in cities are easy to hire and easy to direct toward educational opportunities. Kids growing up in rural areas are often out of the communications loop (the internet doesn’t work terribly well in many rural areas) and have to drive a long way to job interviews.

In general, it’s tough to network large rural areas in the same ways that cities get networked.

On the matter of why peer-to-peer networks have emerged in certain industries, Auerswald makes a claim that I feel compelled to contradict:

The peer-to-peer business models in local transportation, hospitality, food service, and the rental of consumer goods were the first to emerge, not because they are the most important for the economy but because these are industries with relatively low regulatory complexity.

No no no!

Food trucks emerged because heavy regulations on restaurants (eg, fire code, disability access, landscaping,) have cut significantly into profits for restaurants housed in actual buildings.

Uber emerged because the cost of a cab medallion–that is, a license to drive a cab–hit 1.3 MILLION DOLLARS in NYC. It’s a lucrative industry that people were being kept out of.

In contrast, there has been little peer-to-peer business innovation in healthcare, energy, and education–three industries that comprise more than a quarter of the US GDP–where regulatory complexity is relatively high.

Again, no.

There is a ton of competition in healthcare; just look up naturopaths and chiropractors. Sure, most of them are quacks, but they’re definitely out there, competing with regular doctors for patients. (Midwives appear to be actually pretty effective at what they do and significantly cheaper than standard ob-gyns.)

The difficulty with peer-to-peer healthcare isn’t regulation but knowledge and equipment. Most Americans own a car and know how to drive, and therefore can join Uber. Most Americans do not know how to do heart surgery and do not have the proper equipment to do it with. With training I might be able to set a bone, but I don’t own an x-ray machine. And you definitely don’t want me manufacturing my own medications. I’m not even good at making soup.

Education has tons of peer-to-peer innovation. I homeschool my children. Sometimes grandma and grandpa teach the children. Many homeschoolers join consortia that offer group classes, often taught by a knowledgeable parent or hired tutor. Even people who aren’t homeschooling their kids often hire tutors, through organizations like Wyzant or afterschool test-prep centers like Kumon. One of my acquaintances makes her living primarily by skype-tutoring Koreans in English.

And that’s not even counting private schools.

Yes, if you want to set up a formal “school,” you will encounter a lot of regulation. But if you just want to teach stuff, there’s nothing stopping you except your ability to find students who’ll pay you to learn it.

Now, energy is interesting. Here Auerswsald might be correct. I have trouble imagining people setting up their own hydroelectric dams without getting into trouble with the EPA (not to mention everyone downstream.)

But what if I set up my own windmill in my backyard? Can I connect it to the electric grid and sell energy to my neighbors on a windy day? A quick search brings up WindExchange, which says, very directly:

Owners of wind turbines interconnected directly to the transmission or distribution grid, or that produce more power than the host consumes, can sell wind power as well as other generation attributes.

So, maybe you can’t set up your own nuclear reactor, and maybe the EPA has a thing about not disturbing fish, but it looks like you can sell wind and solar energy back to the grid.

I find this a rather exciting thought.

Ultimately, while Auerswald does return to and address the need to radically change how we think about education and the education-job-retirement lifepath, he doesn’t return to the increasing white death rate. Why are white death rates increasing faster than other death rates, and will transition to the “gig economy” further accelerate this trend? Or was the past simply anomalous for having low white death rates, or could these death rates be driven by something independent of the economy itself?

Now, it’s getting late, so that’s enough for tonight, but what are your thoughts? How do you think this new economy–and educational landscape–will play out?

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Book Club: The Industrial Revolution and its Discontents, Code Economy, ch. 5

1. The Industrial Revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race. They have greatly increased the life-expectancy of those of us who live in “advanced” countries, but they have destabilized society, have made life unfulfilling, have subjected human beings to indignities, have led to widespread psychological suffering (in the Third World to physical suffering as well) and have inflicted severe damage on the natural world. The continued development of technology will worsen the situation. It will certainly subject human beings to greater indignities and inflict greater damage on the natural world, it will probably lead to greater social disruption and psychological suffering, and it may lead to increased physical suffering even in “advanced” countries. –Kaczynski, Industrial Society and Its Future

The quest to find and keep a “job for life”–stable, predictable work that pays enough to live on, is reachable by available transportation, and lends a sense of meaning to their daily lives–runs though every interview transcript, from those who are unemployed to those who have “made it” to steady jobs like firefighting or nursing. Traditional blue-collar work–whether as a factory worker or a police officer–has become increasingly scarce and competitive, destroyed by a technologically advanced and global capitalism that prioritizes labor market “flexibility”… Consequently, the post-industrial generation is forced to continuously grapple with flux and contingency, bending and adapting to the demands of they labor market until they feel that they are about to break. –Silva, Coming up Short: Working-Class Adulthood in an Age of Uncertainty

The historical record confirms that the realities of the ongoing processes of mechanization and industrialization, as noted early on by Lord Byron, were very different from the picture adherents to the wage fund theory held in their heads. While the long-term impact of the Industrial revolution had on the health and well-being of the English population was strongly positive, the first half of the nineteenth century was indeed a time of exceptional hardship for English workers. In a study covering the years 1770-1815, Stephen Nicholas and Richard Steckel report “falling heights of urban-and rural-born males after 1780 and a delayed growth spurt for 13- to 23-year old boys,” as well as a fall in the English workers’ height relative to that of Irish convicts. By the 1830s, the life expectancy of anyone born in Liverpool and Manchester was less than 30 years–as low as had been experienced in England since the Black Death of 1348. –Auerswald, The Code Economy

On the other hand:

Chapter 5 of The Code Economy, Substitution, explores the development of economic theories about the effects of industrialization and general attempts at improving the lives of the working poor.

… John Barton, a Quaker, published a pamphlet in 1817 titled, Observations on the Circumstances Which Influence the Condition of the Laboring Classes of Society. … Barton began by targeting the Malthusian assumption that population grows in response to increasing wages. … He began by noting that there was no a priori reason to believe that labor and capital were perfect complements, as classical economists implicitly assumed. The more sensible assumption was that, as wages increased, manufacturers and farmers alike would tend to substitute animals or machines for human labor. Rather than increasing the birth rate, the higher wages brought on by the introduction of new machinery would increase intergenerational differences in income and thus delay child-bearing. Contrary to the Malthusian line of argument, this is exactly what happened.

There’s an end note that expands on this (you do read the end notes, right?) Quoting Barton, 1817:

A rise of wages then does not always increase population… For every rise of wages tends to decrease the effectual demand for labor… Suppose that by a general agreement among farmers the rate of agricultural wage were raised from 12 shillings to 24 shillings per week–I cannot imagine any circumstance calculated more effectually to discourage marriage. For it would immediately become a a most important object to cultivate with as few hands as possible; wherever the use of machinery, or employment of horses could be substituted for manual labor, it would be done; and a considerable portion of existing laborers would be out of work.

This is the “raising the minimum wage will put people out of work” theory. Barton also points out that when people do manage to get these higher-paid jobs, they will tend to be older, more experienced laborers rather than young folks looking to marry and start a family.

A quick perusal of minimum wage vs. unemployment rate graphs reveals some that are good evidence against minimum wages, and some that are good evidence in favor of them. Here’s a link to a study that found no effects of minimum wage differences on employment. The American minimum wage data is confounded by things like “DC is a shithole.” DC has the highest minimum wage in the country and the highest unemployment rate, but Hawaii also has a very high minimum wage and the lowest unemployment rate. In general, local minimum wages probably reflect local cost of living/cost of living reflects wages. If we adjust for inflation, minimum wage in the US peaked around 1968 and was generally high throughout the 60s and 70s, but has fallen since then. Based on conversations with my parents, I gather the 60s and 70s were a good time to be a worker, when unskilled labor could pretty easily get a job and support a family; unemployment rates do not seem to have fallen markedly since then, despite lower real wages. A quick glance at a map of minimum wages by country reveals that countries with higher minimum wage tend to be nicer countries that people actually want to live in, but the relationship is not absolute.

We might say that this contradicts Barton, but why have American wages stagnated or gone down since the 60s?

1. Automation

2. Emergence of other economic competitors as Europe and Japan recovered from WWII

3. Related: Outsourcing to cheaper workers in China

4. Labor market growth due to entry of women, immigrants, and Boomers generally

Except for 2, that sounds a lot like what Barton said would happen. Wages go up => people move where the good jobs are => labor market expands => wages go down. If labor cannot move, then capitalists can either move the businesses to the labor or invest in machines to replace the labor.

On the other hand, the standard of living is clearly higher today than it was in 1900, even if wages, like molecules diffusing through the air, tend to even out over time. Why?

First, obviously, we learned to extract more energy from sources like oil, coal, and nuclei. A loom hooked up (via the electrical grid) to an electric turbine can make a lot more cloth per hour than a mere human working with shuttles and thread.

Second, we have gotten better at using the energy we extract–Auerswald would call this “code.”

Standards of living may thus have more to do with available resources (including energy) and our ability to use those resources (both the ‘code” we have developed and our own inherent ability to interact with and use that code,) than with the head-scratching entropy of minimum wages.

Auerswald discusses the evolution of David Ricardo’s economic ideas:

By incorporating the potential for substitution between capital and labor, Ricardo led the field of economics in rejecting the wage fund theory, along with its Dickensian implications for policy. He accepted the notion the introduction of new machinery would result in the displacement of workers. The upshot was that the workers were still assumed to be doomed, but the reason was now substitution of machines for labor, not scarcity of a Malthusian variety.

Enter Henry George, with a radically different perspective:

“Like a flash it came over me that there was the reason of advancing poverty with advancing wealth. With the growth of population, land grows in value, and the men who work it must pay more for the privilege.” …

George asserted that increasing population density, (not, as Malthus claimed, population decline) was the source of increased prosperity in human societies: “Wealth is greatest where population is densest… the production of wealth to a given amount of labor increases as population increases.”  The frequent interactions among people in densely populated cities accelerates the emergence and evolution of code. However, while population growth and increased density naturally bring increased prosperity, they also, just as naturally, bring increasing inequality and poverty. Why? Because the fruits of labor are inevitably gathered by the owners of land.

In other words, increasing wages => increasing rents and the workers are right back where they started while the landlords are sitting pretty.

In sharp contrast with Karl Marx, … George stated that “the antagonism of interest is not between labor and capital… but is in reality between labor and capital on the one side and the land ownership on the other.” The implication of his analysis was as simple as it was powerful: to avoid concentrating wealth in the hands of the few, it was the government’s responsibility to eliminate all taxes on capital and laborers, the productive elements of the economy, and to replace those taxes with a single tax on land.

Note: not a flat tax on land, but a tax relative to the land’s sale value.

I was glad to see Henry George in the book because I enjoy George’s theories and they are under-discussed, especially relative to Marxism. You will find massive online communities of Marxists despite the absolute evidence that Marxism is a death machine, but relatively few enthusiastic Georgists. One of the things I rather appreciate about Georgism is its simplicity; the complication of the tax code is its own, additional burden on capitalists and workers alike. Almost any simplified tax code, no matter how “unfair,” would probably improve maters a great deal.

But there’s more, because this is a dense chapter. Auerswald notes that the increasing complexity of code (ie, productivity) has lead to steadily increasing standards of living over the past two centuries, at least after the Industrial Revolution’s initial cataclysm.

Quoting economist Paul Douglas, some years later:

“The increased use of mechanical appliances in offices has tended to lower the skill required. An old-fashioned bookkeeper, for instance, had to write a good hand, he had to be able to multiply and divide with absolute accuracy. Today his place is taken by a girl who  operates a book-keeping machine, and it has taken her a few weeks at mot to become a skilled bookkeeper.” In other words, the introduction of machinery displaced skilled workers for the very same reason it enhanced human capabilities: it allowed a worker with relatively rudimentary training to perform tasks that previously required a skilled worker.

…”Another way of looking at it, is this: Where formerly the skill used in bookkeeping was exercised by the bookkeeper, today that skill is exercised by the factory employees who utilize it to manufacture a machine which can do the job of keeping books, when operated by someone of skill far below that of the former bookkeeper. And because of this transfer of skill form the office to the factory, the rewards of skill are likewise transferred to the wage-earner at the plant.”

This is a vitally important pint… The essence of this insight is that introducing more powerful machines into the workplace does more than simply encode  into the machine the skills or capabilities that previously resided only in humans; it also shifts the burden of skill from one domain of work to another. … A comparable shift in recent decades has been from the skill of manufacturing computing machines (think IBM or Dell in their heydays) to that of creating improved instructions for computing machines’ the result has been a relative growth in programmers’ wages. The underlying process is the same. Improvements in technology will predictably reduce demand for the skills held by some workers, but they also will enhance the capabilities of other workers and shift the requirements of skill from one domain of work to the other.”

The problem with this is that the average person puts in 15-20 years of schooling (plus $$$) in order to become skilled at a job, only to suddenly have that job disappear due to accelerating technological change/improvement, and then some asshole one comes and tells them they should just “learn to code” spend another two to four years unemployed and paying for the privilege of learning another job and don’t see how fucking dispiriting this is to the already struggling.

The struggle for society is recognizing that even as standards of living may be generally rising, some people may absolutely be struggling with an economic system that offers much less certainty and stability than our ancestors enjoyed.

A final word from Auerswald:

… work divides or “bifurcates” as code advances in a predictable and repeatable way. The bifurcation of work in a critical mechanism by which the advance of code yields improvements in human well-being at the same time as it increases human reliance on code.

Graph of energy input vs. output by economic type.

energyvsorganizationI have been looking for this graph for some time, failed, and finally re-created it from memory. So warning: this was re-created from memory. A really old memory.

Anyway, this graph shows the relationship between energy inputs (work) and energy output (typically food, but also shelter, children, luxury goods, etc.) for a given variety of human technology/economic organizational structure.

(Note that the graph is not to scale and only a conceptual representation of the idea.)

So for example, in a hunter gathering society, inputing more energy by hunting more often will reward people with more food, but only up to a point. As game becomes scarcer, hunters bring home less food, and eventually you eat all of the animals in the area and are actually getting less out of hunting than you’re putting into it.

Even at its maximum efficiency, a hunter-gatherer society simply can’t (in most environments) obtain much food and can’t support many people.

Growing food takes much more energy, but the results support far more people.

Modern industrial societies take a ton of energy to run, but also support billions of people, cities, etc.

Of course, even modern industrial societies still need to be careful about that right-hand side of the curve.

Feminism is a status game

I’ve posted before about my theory that feminism is about high-status people vs. low-status men.

I was thinking today a bit more about status.

Now, there exist feminist concerns that are not status-oriented, such as rape and assault. Feminism is vast; it contains multitudes. We will lay these aside for the moment to focus on status.

One of the things that makes me distrustful of feminism is the way extended family members attempt to use it to create marital discord between my husband and myself in order to get their way during disputes. Advertising does this, too, so I’ll use an example from advertising.

Family harmony and functioning require that husbands and wives agree on how the family’s money is spent, and that neither spouse spends recklessly or excessively. It is often simplest if one spouse has primary responsibility for setting the budget, paying the bills, etc. Sometimes, as in Japan, this is primarily the women; sometimes it is primarily the men. These arrangements are pure necessity: budgetary disorganization or reckless spending lead to financial problems like the electricity bill not getting paid.

Feminism promotes the idea that women should be in control of their own finances, which has been picked up by the advertising industry and promoted as the idea that spending money on whatever the hell you want is an act of female empowerment because you are defying your evil, patriarchal husband’s demands that you stick to a reasonable budget. You deserve it! (whatever “it” is.)

To be fair, advertisers do the exact same thing to men, albeit with slightly different language. You deserve a break today! A Big Mac! Cigarettes! Cars! Whatever it is, it isn’t some unneeded luxury advertisers for which are trying to convince you to fork over your hard-won budget dollars, but something you fundamentally deserve to have.

I get this a lot. “You deserve new clothes!” No, my current clothes are just fine; I am not dressed in rags. I buy new clothes when I need them and spend discretionary budget money on books, games, and other things for the children.

“You deserve a night out! Let’s go downtown and socialize with strangers!” No, I have no particular desire to act like a 20-something singleton cruising the bars. I certainly do not “deserve” to have someone else watch over my kids for me. Nor do I “deserve” to go to a restaurant; food is food. There is no sense in paying extra just so I can eat it outside my house.

“You deserve a vacation!” Fuck no. I hate travel.

“You deserve to sit in the front of the car instead of the back!” I sit in the back so I can supervise the distribution of ketchup packets when we get french fries. This is not a goddam status competition; I just want to make sure ketchup doesn’t go everywhere.

“You are not doing X that I want you to do! It must be because of your husband! He is poisoning you against me! You need to stop letting him boss you around! Stand up to him and let him know you are doing X because you deserve it, girl!”

At this point, I’m like OMFG, let’s just bring back patriarchy and then I can just redirect all of this bullshit at my husband and be like, “Sorry, I don’t make those decisions, that’s his department, so sorry, can’t help you at all! Bye-bye!” Okay, maybe that would be cruel to him, but it would at least spare me.

But none of these decisions were made because of political or patriarchal leanings. They’re all things we decided because they made practical sense for us to do them that way, or because I happen to have a personal preference in that department. The attempt to use feminist arguments a a wedge to make me spend more money or otherwise do things I dislike is, ultimately, an attempt to poison marital harmony by setting me against my husband.

But let’s get back to status.

Status is a shitty game. Chances are, you’ll lose; for 99.999% or so of people, there’s always someone higher status than themselves. Sure, you might have been good at sports in highschool, but in college you discovered that you suck and hundreds of people are much better than you. You might have been good at math in middle school, but come college, you discover that you do not have what it takes to get a degree in math. Or maybe you were skilled enough to get a degree in art, only to discover that people like you are a dime a gross and eating beans out of cans.

It is extremely hard in our modern world to be tops in any industry. It is hard to be tops in your neighborhood. It is hard to be tops in your church. It is hard to be top anything, anywhere, period.

Now rewind your clock to 1900 or so. Most people lived in small, rural farming communities, in which most people had the exact same occupation: farmer. “Status” in your community was directly tied to your ability to be a good farmer, or if you were a woman, a good farm wife. Do you plow your fields well? Work hard? Get the harvest in on time? Treat your neighbors decently and not stumble home drunk in the evenings? Then you were probably regarded as a “good” farmer and had reasonable status in your community. Did you keep the house clean, tend the garden, mend the clothe, watch the children, cook good meals, and preserve food for the winter? Then you were a “good” farm wife.

It’s a hard life, but they were tasks that mere mortals could aspire to do well, and whatever your status, it was obviously derived from the physical execution of your duties. You can’t fake getting in the harvest or cooking a good meal.

I reject–based on lack of evidence–the theory that 1800s farming societies viewed women derrogatorily. Farmsteads could not function without their female members (just as they could not function without men), and farm families spent long hours with no one but each other for company. Under these circumstances, I suspect that people generally valued and appreciated each other’s contributions, rather than engage in dumb fights over whether or not women were good at plowing.

Then came industrialization. People moved off the farms and into cities. Factory work replaced plowing.

While there are bad factory workers, there are no great ones. Working harder or faster than your fellows on the factory line does not result in better widgets or superior performance reviews, because the entire factory is designed to work at the exact same pace. Working faster or slower simply doesn’t work.

Factory work is, in many respects, more pleasant than farm work. It is less labor-intensive, you don’t have to shovel manure, you don’t have to work in inclement weather, and you’re less likely to starve to death due to inclement weather.

But there are many critiques arguing that factory work is inhuman (in the literal sense) and soul-deadening. The factory worker is little more than a flesh-and-blood robot, repeatedly performing a single function.

The farmer may look upon a stack of hay or newborn calf and feel pride in the work of his hands; the farm wife may look likewise on the food stacked in her cellar or her healthy children. But the factory worker has nothing he can point to and say, “I made this.” Factory work levels everyone into one great big undifferentiated mass.

War is perhaps the exception to this rule; those who band together to build tanks and planes to save their homelands do seem to feel great pride in their work. But merely making flip-flops or cellphones does not carry this kind of noble sentiment.

Outside of war, the factory worker has little status, and that he has is determined almost entirely by what others wish to pay him. There are therefore two ways for the factory worker to gain status: the country can go to war, or the worker can get a better-paying job.

Women have generally opted for “better jobs” over “more wars.”

Questions like “Why aren’t there more women in STEM?” or more generally, “Why aren’t there more women in profession X?” along with all the questions about equal pay all seem predicated on a quest for higher status, or at least on the idea that if women aren’t equal in any field, it’s a sign of people devaluing women (rather than, say, women just not being particularly interested in that field.)

Did European Filthiness lead to Prohibition?

Part 2 is here: Beer, Cholera, and Public Health

Prohibition is a strange period in American history. Disparate bedfellows–women, Puritans, even the Klan–united in their hatred of Irish drunkenness (and the Germans who enabled it) to actually pass a Constitutional amendment banning alcohol for the whole country.

These days, everyone likes to laugh and point fingers at our dumb idiot ancestors who were so dumb, they thought the Irish were bad immigrants. What they miss, of course, is that the Irish immigrants of the 1800s and early 1900s actually were problematic and were involved in a lot of crime, much of it drunken. (My general impression is that the Italians were involved in more crime, but the Irish were more numerous.) Things were so bad, people thought Prohibition sounded like a good way to improve matters.

The Germans

The Germans started showing up en masse after the failed rebellions of 1848. The losers–mostly middle to upper-class Germans with ideas about democracy and socialism–decided to head somewhere they were less likely to get killed by the state. Many German immigrants, however, were just folks in search of new opportunities for a better life. Like in the Ostsiedlung, German migration to the US was not a free-for-all, but often consisted of organized groups of like-minded academic revolutionaries like the Latin Settlements (whereby “Latin” we mean, “people who spoke Latin”) or created by folks like the Giessener Emigration Society, whose goal was the creation of a new German state within the US. The Germans generally found their new settlements nice enough in the sense of not being in immediate danger of decapitation, but kind of boring, especially now that they had no evil aristocrats to struggle against.

Now that I think about it, I wouldn’t be surprised if the emigration of Germany’s most anti-authoritarian people left behind a German population that was, as a result, far more temperamentally pro-authoritaian, resulting in Bakunin’s observation that an anarchist revolution could never succeed in Germany because the Germans were the statiest of people.

By 1872, Germany was America’s largest source of people, settling primarily in the North:

German Population in the US by 1872
German Population in the US by 1872

Take note of the little patch of Germans in Texas and in the corner of Texas-Louisiana-Arkansas, then compare to today’s map of counties where Prohibition is still in force:

Wet counties = blue; dry counties = red; yellow counties = mixed laws
Wet counties = blue; dry counties = red; yellow counties = mixed laws

Where there are Germans, beer tends to be legal. (The Germans in Pennsylvania and Ohio are perhaps a different sort from the rest.)

The Germans brought with them a talent for large-scale production of high-quality products–in this case, beer. Yes, beer (and other forms of alcohol) had been produced in the US ever since some ancient Indian left some watery grain or fruit out too long and it began to ferment, and the original colonists had brewed plenty British ales and apple ciders, but German immigrants brought the lagers that became the characteristically “American lagers” we know today.

Anheuser-Busch? Founded by Germans.

“Adolphus Busch was the first American brewer to use pasteurization to keep beer fresh; the first to use mechanical refrigeration and refrigerated railroad cars, which he introduced in 1876; and the first to bottle beer extensively.[1][11][12] By 1877, the company owned a fleet of forty refrigerated railroad cars to transport beer.[12] Expanding the company’s distribution range led to increased demand for Anheuser products, and the company substantially expanded its facilities in St. Louis during the 1870s.[13] The expansions led production to increase from 31,500 barrels in 1875 to more than 200,000 in 1881.”

Budweiser? Named after Budweis, a city in the modern Czech Republic. Michelob is named for the Czech town of Michalovice.

Miller Light, produced by the Miller Brewing Company (now after many company mergers and acquisitions part of MillerCoors,) founded in Milwaukee in 1855 by Friedrich Eduard Johannes Müller of Riedlingen, Württemberg.

Coors was founded in 1873 by German immigrants Adolph Coors and Jacob Schueler, using a recipe they’d bought from a Czech immigrant.

The oldest and biggest (by volume) beer company in the US today is D. G. Yuengling & Son, (founded 1829,)where Yuengling is an anglicization of Jüngling, which was, of course, simply David Gottlob Jüngling of Aldingen, Kingdom of Württemberg‘s last name.

Johnny-come-latey Boston Beer Company (maker of Sam Adams ale) often ties Yuengling for sales. Sam Adams was founded in 1984 by Jim Koch, yet another German, who supposedly brewed up the first few batches in his kitchen using an old family recipe.

If you want more on the history of German beer making in America, here’s the Wikipedia page on American Beer and a slightly more detailed article on Beer History.

Long story short, all of those “American” beers are German/Czech.

The Irish

The Irish, unlike the Germans, were a disorganized mass of peasants fleeing the great famine and continuing Irish poverty. They were not suave, classically-trained academic revolutionaries, but tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of Europe’s teeming shore, homeless and tempest-tost.

So desperate were the Irish to escape that many were willing to crowd into the horrific coffin ships, where conditions were so bad that 30% of the passengers died. Still, they managed to arrive in numbers that rivaled the Germans.

Unfortunately, despite this sympathetic start, the Irish managed to make themselves unpopular in their new home:

1024px-Joseph_F._Keppler_-_Uncle_Sam's_lodging-house

In 1871, the Orange Riots over a Protestant Irish parade in NYC resulted in the deaths of 63 people, putting modern NYC parade-related crimes to shame. The parade celebrated an old victory of Protestant Irish over Catholic Irish, so the Catholic Irish decided to attack the parade, despite the presence of 5,000 policemen and state militia, who of course shot back at the rioters.

In the 1860s, the Irish comprised over half of all arrests in NYC; amusingly, they were also almost half of the police. To this day, the Irish continue to serve their communities as police officers and fire fighters, and also criminals. According to the Wikipedia, “the Irish topped the charts demographically in terms of arrests and imprisonment. They also had more people confined to insane asylums and poorhouses than any other group. The racial supremacy belief that many Americans had at the time contributed significantly to Irish discrimination.[136]

Things were bad enough that in 1856, the “Know Nothings” a nativist, anti-immigrant party carried Maryland and many Southern counties, (though we might note that their tactic of running former President Fillmore as their candidate without asking him first might not have been the most ethical.) Of course, by 1860 everyone had decided that the Irish were just fine, so long as they fought on their side, but once the Klan got going, it remembered the old mission of hating Papists and immigrants.

By 1872, the Irish population distribution within the US looked much like the German:

800px-Irish_Population_1872

It was a synergistic relationship; the Germans were good at making the beer and the Irish were good at drinking it.

Of course, the Irish did not commit all of the crime–the Fins were drunker, Mexicans more murderous–but these migrant groups were far smaller than the Irish (especially in the mid-1800s; the southern and eastern European immigration waves began much later than the German and Irish waves):

Bonger+US+Immigrant+crime+by+nation+1910+top

From Bonger's "Race and Crime," courtesy of Those Who Can See
From Bonger’s “Race and Crime,” courtesy of Those Who Can See

Bonger+Drunk+misdemeanors+by+nationality+top

From Bonger's "Race and Crime," courtesy of Those Who Can See
From Bonger’s “Race and Crime,” courtesy of Those Who Can See
From Commons's Races and Immigrants in America, courtesy of Those Who Can See
From Commons’s Races and Immigrants in America, courtesy of Those Who Can See

Of course, since this was still the era of Segregation, “Coloreds” didn’t live among Puritans, but the Irish did.

The peaceful Swedes, Norwegians, and Germans tended to settle in the countryside, while the Irish and Italians, unable to afford train fare, stayed where they landed, giving the North East coastal cities a particularly strong tradition of crime-ridden ethnic enclaves. As the immigrant %age of American cities soared toward 50%, the police found themselves unable to control the resulting crime waves, and rival immigrant gangs were left to deal with each other.

Those Who Can See quotes Frank Tannenbaum’s Crime and the Community:

The Jewish gangs that grew up to protect the Jew against the Irish, the Italian gangs later in conflict with the Jewish gangs, the old comment in certain parts of Chicago that “Every Irish kid was raised to kill a Swede,” the conflict between Negro and white that led to race riots in Chicago and East St. Louis, all trace the long-time irritation and conflict that contributed to the habit of violence, that led to coalescence of groups practicing violence against their neighbors,… ”

These days, of course, everyone wants to be Irish, because American “oppression” of Irish criminals means that Irish is now one of the few ethnicities a white person can proudly proclaim without getting accused of white privilege. Who wants to be English anymore? What did England ever contribute to the world, besides the works of Shakespeare, Newton, Darwin; the Industrial Revolution and modern capitalism; the ability to find longitude at sea; the Smallpox vaccine and epidemiology? LAME-O. Same for being an “American.”

In their defense, Irish crime appears to have been mostly drunken brawling, wife beating, and criminal neglect of their children due to their over-fondness of alcohol, rather than organized murder of the mafia variety, but if I have to read one more sob-story masquerading as “literature” about how the poor Irish couldn’t figure out how to stop drinking long enough to care for their children, well, I guess I will be very annoyed at the author.

(I don’t hate the Irish (who have been generally well behaved lately and certainly haven’t done anything to me personally); I hate the SJWs’ insistence on feigning ignorance about why anyone might dislike people who commit a lot of crime.)

The eventual, perhaps inevitable result was backlash, but we’ll get to that after our discussion of why the Irish drank so much in Part 2: Beer, Cholera, and Public Health.

The Marxist Meme-Plex as Cargo Cult of the Industrial Revolution

So I was thinking about Marxism, and how strange it is that it only ever really caught on in precisely the countries where it itself proclaimed it shouldn’t, and never became very domestically important in the countries where it was supposed to go.

It’s kind of like if there were a bunch of people going around proclaiming “This is what Mexican culture is like,” only none of them were Mexican, and actual Mexicans wanted very little to do with it–you might suspect that the stuff being called “Mexican culture” wasn’t all that Mexican.

Only we’re talking about overthrowing the state and killing a bunch of people, rather than tacos and Cinco de Mayo.

Marx proclaimed that Communism, (by which I mean Marxist-style communism inspired by Marx and written about by Marx in his many works on the subject, which became the intellectual basis for the international communist movement that eventually triumphed in the USSR, China, Vietnam, Cuba, N. Korea, etc.) was supposed to be the natural outgrowth of capitalism itself in industrialized nations, but the list I just gave contains only barely-industrialized or practically feudal nations.

Marx was, of course, a mere mortal; one cannot expect anyone to write thousands of pages and come out correct in all of them. Still, this is a pretty big oversight. A great deal of Marx’s theory rests on the belief that the form of the economic system dictates the culture and political system: that is, that capitalism forces people to act and organize in certain ways in order to feed the capitalist machine; feudalism forces people to act and organize in certain other ways, in order to feed the feudal machine.

So for the capitalist, industrialized countries to not go Communist, while a bunch of non-capitalist, non-industrialized do, seems like a pretty big blow to the basics of the theory.

Kind of like if I had a theory that all noble gases were naturally magnetic, and all metals weren’t, and yet metal things kept sticking to my magnets and noble gases seemed relatively uninterested. I might eventually start thinking that maybe I was wrong.

Of course you can pick and chose your Marxism; you might like the idea of the “commodity fetish” while throwing out the rest of the bathwater. Have at it. But we are speaking here of believing both broadly and deeply enough in Marx’s theories to actually advocate overthrowing the state and murdering all the Kulaks.

My own theory is that Marxism appealed to the wrong group of people precisely because they were the wrong group of people.

Actual scientists tend to have little interest in pseudo science. Actual members of a culture don’t get excited by fake versions of their culture. And people with actual experience with industrial capitalism have little interest in Marxism.

In short, Marxism became a kind of myth among unindustrialized or barely-industrialized people about what would happen when the factories came, and so believing the myth, they made it happen.

Marx had intended to create a “science;” describing patterns in his data and thereby making predictions about the future. When that future didn’t happen, the first reaction of his followers was to double down–the theory must not have worked because evil bad people were sabotaging it.

(If it happens naturally, why would it have saboteurs?)

Many people have accused Communism of being a religion–an atheistic religion, but a religion nonetheless. SSC wisely asks Is Everything a Religion?–since practically everything does get described as a religion. EvenCargo Cult Programming.)

Every worldview–every meme-plex, as I like to call them–involves certain beliefs about the world that help people make sense of the vast quantities of data we absorb every day and make predictions about the future. My observation of the sun rising leads me to believe there is a consistent pattern of “sun rises in morning” and that, therefore, the sun will rise tomorrow. “Science” itself contains many such beliefs.

Religions, like all other world views and meme-plexes, provide a way of organizing and understanding one’s observations about the world, generally through appeal to supernatural agents. (It rains because Zeus is peeing through a sieve; suffering exists because sin.)

The obvious reason belief systems get called religions is to insult them and suggest that they are irrational.

Of course, none of us is entirely rational; the idea that bags of rice that suddenly fell from the sky were the gift of the sky gods makes as much sense as any other if you have no other information on the subject. Scientists believe wrong and irrational things, too.

The critical difference is that science attempts to falsify itself–a theory cannot even be described as “scientific” if it cannot be falsified. All meme-plexes resist change, both because of human biases and because it’s probably a bad idea to try to re-formulate your beliefs about everything every time you happen across a single discordant datum, but science does attempt to disprove and discard bad theories over time–this is fundamentally what science is, and this is why I love science.

A faith, by contrast, is something one just believes, even despite evidence to the contrary, or without any ability to disprove it. For the deeply faithful, the reaction to evidence that contradicts one’s theory is generally not, “Hrm, maybe the theory is wrong,” but, “We aren’t following the the theory hard enough!”

The former leads to penicillin and airplanes; the later leads to dead people.

Note: I feel compelled to add that not all faith leads to dead people. Faith in Communism certainly did, however.

Marxists failed to admit information that contradicted their theories; they just killed people who contradicted their theories for being counter-revolutionaries.