What do Terrorists Read and Are Tech Companies Suppressing Wages?

First, an interesting article claiming that tech companies are using artificial labor shortages to claim they need to import more H1-Bs in order to keep wages low:

That study was a key link in a chain of evidence leading to an entirely different view of the real origins of the Immigration Act of 1990s and the H1-B visa classification. … Their aims instead were to keep American scientific employers from having to pay the full US market price of high skilled labor. They hoped to keep the US research system staffed with employees classified as “trainees,” “students,” and “post-docs” for the benefit of employers. The result would be to render the US scientific workforce more docile and pliable to authority and senior researchers by attempting to ensure this labor market sector is always flooded largely by employer-friendly visa holders who lack full rights to respond to wage signals in the US labor market.

I rate this credible.

Second, an article by Donald Holbrook, “What Types of Media do Terrorists Collect?” [PDF] Unfortunately, the article only looks at religious/historical/political media, and so does not answer the eternal question of whether terrorists prefer Asuka or Rei, or whether their media consumption differs in other ways from other people’s.

The author looked at media collected by ten Islamic terrorists in, I believe, Britain. It would be interesting to compare these collections to those of NRA terrorists and people of similar backgrounds who didn’t commit terrorism–maybe someone can do a follow-up study on the matter.

So what media do they consume?

Holbrook found, first of all, that most of their media is pretty innocuous–things like 17-part audiobook series on some historical topic. (Audio–rather than written or video–media predominated, but that may not hold in the future with YouTube videos now quite easy to produce.) Only a small percent of the media was coded as “extreme” (that is, advocating violence)–even terrorists don’t spend all of their time reading about how to build bombs.

A few items were consumed by multiple people (this was generally more extreme media, which probably just exists in much lower quantities,) but most of the media was of sufficient variety that different people read different things.

Most of it was in English, since the terrorists speak English. The author expressed some concern that translations of much older religious material were not entirely accurate, but also noted that the terrorists possessed a fair amount of religious/historical commentaries that expressed counter-extremist messages.

So what can we conclude from this?

  1. It seems unlikely to me that radicalization is simply due to exposure to extreme material, since most of what they consumed was mild. It seems more likely that people who are prone to radicalization seek out more extreme material.
  2. However, it is possible that a strong sense of historical or religious identity is an important part of radicalization–most people don’t listen to 17 part serieses on obscure religious history topics.
  3. People who live in Britain but have a strong identity as something other than British are probably more likely to engage in anti-British terrorism
  4. The internet/modern technology have increased the availability of historical/foreign documents, especially in translation, allowing for people to communicate across nations and through time in ways that were much more difficult and limited before.

#4 is, I think, quite important–across a range of different human activities, not just radicalization. I think the increased availability of printed material in the early modern period allowed for the spread of the European witchcraft hysteria, for example, as the gullible public eagerly consumed pamphlets purporting to report on heinous crimes of witchcraft occurring in neighboring towns.

Increased literacy probably also went hand-in-hand with the Protestant Revolution, which emphasized the importance of people reading the Bible for themselves in order to have a personal relationship with God–something that was impossible before the era of relatively cheap Bibles.

This, of course, launched years of religious warfare that scourged the European continent and led to a lot of people being burned at the stake, at least until people mellowed and decided religious differences weren’t that big a deal.

Today, changes in media availability/ease of communication is changing how Westerners think about morality. It may also be changing how non-Westerners approach the world too–but not necessarily in the same ways.

Unsurprisingly, this study contradicts the common claim that terrorists aren’t religiously motivated or aren’t practicing “true Islam.” Of course, I have yet to see anyone, ever, admit to practicing a false version of a religion. Everyone believes that they are practicing the true version (or the true lack of a version, in the case of atheists,) and that everyone else is practicing a false version. Of course I also think terrorists have got religion wrong, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t practicing it to the best of their abilities–and of course, they think I’m doing it wrong.

But the fact that these folks are religiously motivated is undeniable–they definitely consume far more religious media than the average person.




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.

Family, Nation, and History

What does it mean to belong?

Despite my inauspicious start, it turns out that I do have history of my own. For privacy reasons, I can’t give too many details, but so far, after reading family histories assembled by my grandparents, I’ve found immigrants in the early 1700s, the 1600s, and sometime between 60 and 12,000 years ago–the exact dates of that particular migration episode is still being debated–but none in the 1800s or 1900s. (This may, of course, be merely an issue of incomplete genealogy.) I can count over a dozen ethnic groups in my family tree (though I should note that I consider the “American Nations” ethnic groups, which you may not.)

If anyone has a right to call themselves an “American,” then I suspect I do.

My husband’s family I laughingly refer to as immigrants. Okay, half of them are good, old-stock Americans. The other half, though, seem to have immigrated at some point during the 1800s. Or maybe even the early 1900s.

I have no connections to the old country; indeed, I don’t really have an old country–there is no one place that a majority of my ancestors came from. I have never had any sense of being anything other than what I am, and for much of my life, not even that. For many years, actually, I operated under quite incorrect assumptions about my origins.

On a practical level, of course, it doesn’t really matter–I would still be me if it turned out I arrived here as an infant from Kazakhstan and my whole “history” was a colossal mix-up with someone else’s. But this is my history, and as such, it is special to me, just like that ragged old bear in the closet my grandmother made. It might be worthless to you, but it’s mine.

What does it mean to have a history?

When I read about the various Bering Strait theories, I think, “Some of my ancestors were there, hunting mammoths.”

When I look at the British, French, and Spanish colonies and the American Revolution, I get to think, “Some of my ancestors were there.” Indeed, some of them were influential folks in those days. When I think about the values of the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, I can say, “These were my ancestors’ ideals.”

When I look at the Civil War, well, there’s a lot of family history. My grandmother still tells the stories her great-grandmother told her about watching the Yankees burn down the family farm.

Some ancestors were pioneers. Some were farmers and some professors and some scientists who helped develop technologies that sent satellites into outer space.

And yet… Nationalism isn’t really my thing. Bald eagles, Stars and Stripes, the Pledge of Allegiance… they’re all a big nope. I don’t feel much of anything for them. I have no interest in the “Southern Cause,” and I don’t even have a particular affection for Americans–most of my close friends are immigrants. And as previously stated, I am not a white nationalist–IQ nationalist is a much better description. I like smart people.

I look out for American interests because I happen to live here. If I lived in Japan, I’d look out for Japan’s interests, simply because anything bad that happened in Japan or to the Japanese would also be happening to me–even though I’d be an immigrant with no particular history there. It is natural (particularly among leftists) to assume, therefore, that immigrants to the US may do the same.

(Edited to clarify: Commonly assumed things are often wrong. Many on the left assume that unprecedented numbers of immigrants from non-Western cultures will adopt American culture in a way that does not substantially change it. The whole point of this post is to discuss the nebulous effects of cultural change and ethnic identity. Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of graphs for “How proud I feel while looking at a picture of George Washington,” so this is difficult to express.)

In fact, I know plenty of immigrants who have far more nationalism for their adopted country than I do.

(Edited to clarify: I happened to write this after visiting the home of an immigrant family that had framed versions of the Pledge of Allegiance and the Signing of the Declaration of Independence on their walls. I recognize that these people are really glad to be in this country, which they consider a vastly superior place to the one they came from.)

Is it of any importance that people have some sort of cultural connection to the place where they live?

I’ve tracked down a bunch of graphs/pictures related to immigration over time:


Picture 20

(Oops, looks like a bit of text snuck in when I cropped the picture.)

Picture 21

ETA: Note that % of immigrants in the population is really at unprecedentedly high numbers, and the countries they come from have changed radically, too:


Total quantity of immigrants by region of origin.

Picture 22

Picture 19

Picture 14

ETA: I thought this was obvious, but immigrants from whatever country they happen to come from tend to bring with them the norms and values of their own culture. Sometimes those norms easily mix with American ones. Sometimes they don’t.


Picture 23


ETA: Another graph showing the ethnic makeup of American immigrants.


ETA: So what happens when immigration goes up? Well, for starters, it looks like a lot more crime happens:


600px-Homicide_rates1900-2001 11217607.0002.206-00000002

And wages seem to stagnate:


(The increase in household median income is due to women entering the workforce, thus increasing the number of workers per household.)


I know there are other things going on in these time periods that could also affect income inequality, but that graph looks remarkably similar to the immigration graphs. Also:

U.S._Compensation_as_Percent_of_GDP_-_v1 Real-Wages-Long-Term   us-income-inequality-1910-2010

A lot of these came from Migration Policy Institute, but I’ve tried to use a variety of sources to avoid any particular bias or inaccuracies.

Now here we began with poetic waxing about one’s ancestors, and are whining about Irish criminality in the 1800s and how hard it is to get a job. BTW, Irish criminality was a real problem.

The correlations are suggestive, but unproven, so let’s get back to nostalgia:

From, "Most decade-specific words in Billboard popular song titles, 1890-2014"
From, “Most decade-specific words in Billboard popular song titles, 1890-2014

In the period from 1890-1920, the most common elements in the song titles seem to be family relations, friends, and nostalgia: Pal, Mammy, Home, Land, Old, Uncle, etc. This is in stark contrast to 1990-2015, when some sort of apocalyptic accident destroyed our ability to spell and we reverted to a savage state of nature: Hell, Fuck, Die, U, Ya, Thang.

Even in my own lifetime, historical nostalgia and appreciation for America’s founders seems to have drastically waned. As a child, Westerns were still occasional things and the whole mythology surrounding the settlement of the West was still floating around, though obviously nothing compared to its height in the 50s, when people were really into Davy Crockett:



(Look like anyone you know? hqdefault, 1438571327352)


The “American Girls” line of books and toys was a big deal when I was a kid, featuring historically-themed dolls and books focusing on the American Revolution, Pioneers, Civil War, Industrialization, and WWII.

Today, the line has been re-branded as “Be Forever,” with far more focus on modern girls and cultural groups. Even the historical books have been re-designed, with “American Girl” reduced to fine print and “Be Forever” scrawled across the covers. The Revolutionary War, Pioneer, and WWII dolls have all been “retired” from the line. Yes, American history without the Revolution. The Civil War doll is still there, though.

Are slavery and the Vietnam protests the only parts of our history that we remember anymore?

Old:  51LVeMm95jL._SX390_BO1,204,203,200_  New: Picture 6

History is dead.

(Sadly, since Mattel bought the company, they’ve become delusional about the amount of pink and purple girls historically wore.)


What would the US look like if all the Johnny-Come-Lateys from the migration waves of the 1800s had never arrived?

I have no idea. (This is an invitation for you to discuss the question.)

In the casually pagan style of our Christian forebears, the US Capital Building rotunda features a painting titled The Apotheosis of Washington, painted by Greek-Italian artist Constantino Brumidi in 1865:



This is not the only painting by this title:

The Apotheosis of Washington by John James Barralet
The Apotheosis of Washington, by John James Barralet


Apotheosis of George Washington, by H. Weishaupt

How about a few more on the general theme?


Statue of Washington in the style of Zeus


Apotheosis of Washington and Lincoln, 1860s.




Things change. Life moves on. Nothing new.


Is a nation’s history worth preserving? How do our identities and personal histories influence our values, cultures, and connections? What does any of this mean to you?

ETA for the clueless: This is an invitation for you to present your own opinions/answers to the questions.