Death Memes Pt 1

The West is infected with a suicide meme. If you are inside the meme, you likely cannot see it; once you are outside the meme, you cannot unsee it.

This post will be broken into two parts:

  1. What are suicide memes?
  2. Why are there suicide memes?

Part One: What are Suicide Memes?

Memes, as used on this blog, are units of ideas. A memeplex is a set of ideas that usually come together. A god who dies and is reborn is a meme–the idea shows up in many religions. Christianity is a memeplex–a whole set of ideas about god, morality, religion, and history that normally travel together.

A suicide meme happens when you adopt the memes of people who want you dead. To the gazelle, the lion is a monster; to the lion, the gazelle is lunch. It does not benefit a gazelle to adopt the lion’s idea that gazelles are tasty, nor does it benefit the lion to sympathize with the gazelle.

Here are some suicide memes in action:


So there’s a second thing in that black box: an unrelenting string of immigration. Non-stop. Non-stop. Folks like me who are Caucasian of European descent, for the first time, in 2017, will be an absolute minority in the United States of America. Absolute minority. Fewer than 50% of the people in America will be, from then on, of white, European stock. That’s not a bad thing–that’s a source of our strength.

“Look, to be totally honest, if things are so bad as you say with the white working class, don’t you want to get new Americans in?”

Grand Rapids, Michigan, wants to make it harder to call the police on black people

In Grand Rapids, Michigan, it may soon no longer be just unfair to call the police on people of color who have done nothing wrong. It may be downright illegal. The City Commission held a public hearing Tuesday on a proposed human rights ordinance that would make it a criminal misdemeanor to “racially profile people of color for participating in their lives,” the city said in a statement. The charge could result in up to a $500 fine, according to CNN affiliate WOOD.

Note: it is already illegal to call in fake police reports.

Dallas has decided that instead of punishing whites who call the police, they’re just not going to prosecute crime anymore

Dallas County District Attorney John Cruezot announced earlier this month he no longer plans to prosecute low-level crimes, including theft cases involving personal items less than $750 in value in many instances.

Canada: Experts recommend having fewer kids to combat climate change:

Seth Wynes, a PhD student at the University of British Columbia, researches the personal choices that have the highest impact on climate change. … 

His study found that the four biggest ways individuals can help cut down on emissions are:

  • Have a smaller family
  • Eat a plant-based diet
  • Avoid air travel
  • Live car-free

Here’s a graph from the article:


Note that the CBC is a “Canadian federal Crown corporation;” Crown corporations are state-owned enterprises owned by the Sovereign of Canada. The CBC receives funding from a variety of sources, including taxes. 

What makes babies so bad for the environment? Well, they’re people, and people use resources. 

Of course, immigrants are also people, and moving from a low-carbon footprint country to a high-footprint country like Canada also has an impact on global warming. 


In 2016, Canada admitted 296,346 permanent residents, compared to 271,845 the previous year – the highest admissions levels since 2010.[1] …

According to data from the 2016 census by Statistics Canada, 21.9% of the Canadian population reported they were or had ever been a landed immigrant or permanent resident in Canada …

The three main official reasons given for the level of immigration are: 

  • The social component – Canada facilitates family reunification
  • The humanitarian component – Relating to refugees. 
  • The economic component – Attracting immigrants who will contribute economically and fill labour market needs.

Well, gee, Canadian government, couldn’t you just fill your labour market needs by having more children instead of using your own people’s tax dollars to tell them not to have children and then importing people to fill the jobs left vacant by those missing citizens?


From Wikipedia: 

Since 2008, a welcome to country has been incorporated into the ceremonial opening of the Parliament of Australia, an event which occurs after each federal election. The welcome includes a speech as well as traditional music and dance. Given that Parliament sits in Canberra, traditionally part of Ngambri country, a Ngambri elder officiates.[8] …

If a local elder is not available, the host of an event can offer an acknowledgement of country in place of a welcome (though the two terms are sometimes used interchangeably). The following form of words, published by the Victorian Government, is typical:[12]

“I acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land [or country] on which we are meeting. I pay my respects to their Elders, past and present, and the Elders from other communities who may be here today.”

I have a very functional idea of ownership. You own something if you can use it and can stop others from using it. Rights of use and access are fundamental to property; the modern Australians own “Australia” because they exert military control over the continent. Stop paying your taxes in Canberra, and the guy who shows up to put you in prison will be a representative of the Australian government, not the Ngambri–proving that this is Australian land, not Ngambri. 

What is the point of lying to children about who owns the land they’re sitting on? 

Back to Canada:

According to the description of the video, provided by Canadian Broadcasting Corp, they do this every day.

These students are being prepared for their own slaughter. 

TeenVogue, which has gone from “fashion magazine” to “Tumblr insanity” and is thus a window into what teenage girls are thinking and why you should never allow your children on the internet, has an article on why Indigenous Land Acknowledgements are important:

By now, many know that the colonization myth we learned in school doesn’t tell the whole story of how the Americas were settled. In 1492, Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue, but what he discovered was not a “New World” — it was one inhabited by millions of indigenous people. …

I apparently hate life enough to click on the “colonization myth” link and it’s full of garbage like “[The Taino] had a highly evolved and complex culture.” No. The Taino had no steel and no plows. They still used stone tools and practiced a combination of horticulture and hunter-gathering. They had neither writing nor math, and lacked the ability to navigate to nearby Africa or Europe. Their society had only two major social classes, commoners and nobles. The Taino might be the nicest people on earth, but calling their culture highly evolved is an outright lie. 

Criticizing Teen Vogue for being stupid is like shooting fish in a barrel, but it provides a lesson in the lies young people are being told. In sentence two, the author pretends not to understand how language works to take a dig at Europeans, those stupid people who thought they’d discovered a whole “New World” even though–get this–there were already people living there. Never mind that no one ever meant “New World” as signifying, “Wow, a new continent just rose out of the ocean!” Europeans knew the “New World” had people in it because Columbus brought Tainos back to Europe on his very first voyage. They knew Cuba was “old” to the people living there. They called it “new” because it was new to them, which is pretty obvious if you’ve ever talked to another human being in your entire life:

“Hi! Do you like my new dress?”

“What? You got that at Goodwill, so it’s your old dress, because it’s not new anymore to its original owner,” said no human, ever.

Back to Teen Vogue:

Living in villages, bands, and confederacies, their traditional territories spanned the entire continent. Indigenous people still live among us, yet how many of us could name the specific tribe or nation whose land we live on?

Unless you live on a reservation, you live on the land of the country you live in. For example, I live in the US. This is American land, because my ancestors conquered it. That makes it my tribe’s land. The Delaware Indians might have owned this land 400 years ago, but they do not own it today. If you are in Canada, you live on Canadian land. Teen Vogue–and the Canadian government–are trying to pull a conceptual bait-and-switch where they replace current land ownership with ancient land ownership in order to delegitimize the land’s current owners.

In Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, it’s harder and harder to not be aware. That’s because school days and meetings — and even hockey games — often begin with a “land acknowledgment,” a formal statement that pays tribute to the original inhabitants of the land. Indigenous peoples have acknowledged one another’s lands for centuries, but in the past decade, some Western governments have begun to promote the practice. 

No human, anywhere on earth, is the “original inhabitant” of the land; we did not spring fully formed from the dirt. Humans moved. They fought. They conquered. They moved some more. Every single inch of territory outside of Antarctica has been conquered and re-conquered over and over throughout human history (and before.) Even chimps, lions, and wolves have territory that they conquer and defend from others.

Literal Aztec Skull tower unearthed by archaeologists, from “Feeding the Gods: [Thousands] of Skulls Reveal Scale of Sacrifice in Mexico City

The claim that Indigenous peoples “have acknowledged one another’s lands for centuries” is a bald-faced lie. (Incredibly, the New York Times also repeats this obvious fiction.) “Indigenous peoples” conquered their neighbors and defended their own tribal territories from invasion just like all other humans. I guarantee you the Aztecs didn’t stand up at the beginning of their ceremonies and announce that “This city was built on traditional Huastec land, and by the way, they are delicious with a nice mole. Okay, let’s get someone up here for a nice, indigenous heart-ripping out sacrifice.”

Land acknowledgments are, on the surface, stupid. If you care about native peoples, go do something nice for them. Donate to a college scholarship fund, help build houses, or be a friend and invite someone over for dinner. Sticking a modified version of “Hey, we conquered you,” at the beginning of speeches isn’t helping anyone.

But from the point of view of convincing people they don’t have a right to their own land, they seem effective. For children, having all of the adult authority figures in their lives telling them every day that they have no legitimate right to the land they live on and that it was “stolen” from others is bound to have an effect.


No one else in the world does this. Turks do not start every school day with an announcement that they are living on land stolen from the Anatolian and Byzantine peoples. Taiwanese schools don’t start the day by acknowledging the Aboriginal Taiwanese; Pakistanis don’t apologize to the Indus Valley People.

In fact, it was from a Pakistani acquaintance that I first heard an articulate defense of loving one’s own nation that helped snap me out of my own SJW-induced-self-loathing fugue. The conversation, roughly paraphrased, went like this: I criticized Pakistan for being, in many ways, not very good. He responded defensively. I responded by criticizing him for not criticizing Pakistan. He responded that he was perfectly aware of his country’s many defects, for goodness’ sake, he lives there, but it remains his country, and like his family, he loves it. Our parents aren’t perfect, they make mistakes, but we still love them. So, too, do we love our countries.

This is a healthy attitude.

Do you think genocide simply begins without warning?

Did the Hutus just wake up with a bad case of the Mondays and decide to go kill 70% of the Tutsis?

Of course not. Anti-Tutsi sentiment had been brewing since at least WWII. Hutus had been importing large numbers of machetes and training bands of children in their use for chopping up humans for years. Propaganda had been featured in Rwandan newspapers and radios for years. The killing of nearly a million people in 100 days took much longer to prepare.

The Tutsis had the misfortune of being a market-dominant minority–always a dangerous position. (I don’t think I need to educate anyone on the history of Nazi propaganda about the Jews.)

The difference between a religion and a cult is that a cult asks you to sacrifice everything for the cult. Incidentally, so does Nike

In South Africa, the popular buzz-phrase is “expropriation without compensation.”


You might think that explicitly calling it “expropriation without compensation” is oddly honest for anything done by a government, since governments usually try to hide their harmful actions, but when a policy of destroying a minority is clearly desired by the majority, there’s no reason not to advertise it. 

“We’ve not called for the killing of white people–at least for now. I can’t guarantee the future.”–Julius Malema, leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters of South Africa

Of course, they tried this in Zimbabwe, which lead to the total collapse of Zimbabwe’s economy. 

South Africa is a modern, industrial country whose economy is not agrarian–though of course people still need to eat–and thus land redistribution would only reduce the amount of food being produced without actually getting people the kind of jobs they need to be doing, like running electrical power plants. South Africa has plenty of farmers already; like all industrialized nations, they need more people in industry, medicine, education, and technology. 

South Africa’s approach to “justice” is vengeance, not uplift: All of the Charts Show that South Africa’s Inequality is Only Getting Worse

Today, the disparity in education, skill, and income continues. Two recently released World Bank reports further show that the gap is not only widening, it is intergenerational. … 

The middle class has particularly suffered from South African economy’s inability to create new jobs. To achieve a significant reduction in the country’s unemployment rate, the World Bank estimates 600,000 jobs would need to be created every year. The economy is producing half that number. Most of the new jobs are in the services sector, while low-skill agriculture and manufacturing jobs are on the decline.  …

Post-apartheid economic policies have been unable to find a balance between job creation and economic growth. During the Mandela years, the country tried the Reconstruction and Development Program, which focused on social security but the program was costly and was not able to broaden the tax base. Then there was Growth, Employment and Redistribution, which tried to stimulate growth and reduce inflation and the deficit, but failed to create many jobs. It unsuccessfully depended on a trickle-down effect to grow the middle class. … 

These policy decisions have created a so-called “missing middle” in various sectors of society which is becoming increasingly dissatisfied. It is glaring in South Africa’s higher education. Categorized as households who earn less than 600,000 rand per year ($47,800), the students who make up the missing middle don’t qualify for national assistance, but they simply can’t afford to pay tuition.

They made up the thousands of young people who created the #FeesMustFall movement, and they are overwhelmingly black. Only 5% of black students are likely to graduate, compared to 15% in 1975. 

And now: South Africa’s Decline Worst among Nations not-at-war:

South Africa’s performance on a range of social, economic and governance measures deteriorated more in the past 12 years than any other nation not at war, according to Eunomix Business & Economics Ltd.

The decline is likely to continue as the country wrestles with the consequences of nine years of worsening corruption and policy paralysis under former President Jacob Zuma, the Johannesburg-based political-risk advisory company said. The fragility of the economy may also limit the tenure of his successor Cyril Ramaphosa, who faces his first national election on May 8, it said.

From the Irish times: Primary Teachers Disproportionately White, Irish, and Catholic:

The majority of trainee primary school teachers are white, Irish and Catholic and do not reflect our diverse population, new research has found. …

The study calls for further discussion of measures that can be taken to attract and recruit more individuals from minority groups into the teaching profession.

Ireland has too many Irish teachers! The solution is to fire the Irish teachers and hire non-Irish teachers.  

Oh, sorry, the solution isn’t firing them. That would be too obvious. It’s just not hiring them anymore. Official discrimination against the Irish in Ireland. Because having Irish people working in their own country is a problem.

Dr Heinz said it is important we take notice of the widening diversity gap and identify potential barriers for individuals from underrepresented groups.

“For many students who are refugees, have certain learning difficulties, or have come from abroad and did not speak English when they enrolled in school, the door to primary teaching is closed early as they can be granted an exemption from the otherwise obligatory Irish instruction at school, where Irish, English and Maths are essential subjects for applicants to primary teacher education programmes in Ireland, a barrier to non-Irish nationals who weren’t educated in Ireland,” said Dr Heinz.

The Irish language might matter to the Irish, but looks like we’ll have to get rid of it accommodate newcomers who can’t be bothered to learn it. Slán!

Also from Ireland: 

Meanwhile, at UCLA (America): 

Mathematicians who want tenure at UCLA have to do more than show a facility with numbers. They also have to pledge in writing a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusivity.

In fact, all professors applying for a tenure-track position at UCLA must write a statement on their commitment to diversity, showing, for example, their “record of success advising women and minority graduate students,” according to the UCLA’s Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. …

The University of California system is especially active – UCLA, UC Riverside, UC San Diego, and UC Berkeley all require such statements. UC Santa Cruz requires them for candidates for faculty Senate positions. …

No one knows how many schools require such diversity statements, but the practice appears to be in vogue. Vassar College, for example, requires tenure-track job candidates to write about their contributions to social justice. Both Vanderbilt University and the University of Pennsylvania provide guides on how to write an effective diversity statement.

 Never mind whether a teacher is good at teaching; you have to write an essay about how committed you are to the quest for fewer white men doing your job. 

These are just a few examples of death memes, picked from different countries. Death memes have become so pervasive that they roll off the tongue; in the UK, a white woman comments on a painting of students who died in WWI:

“Mark my words- we’re taking down the mural of white men in the uni Senate Room, even if I have to paint over it myself”.

I doubt she even knew at the time what it was. People just signal their hatred of white males reflexively.

The death meme is simultaneously telling people to have fewer children for the environment and that we need more immigrants to fill jobs. It’s telling people that all cultures are good–but yours is bad. It’s saying that we should not blame a whole culture for the actions of one person when someone attacks you, but the whole culture is responsible when the attacker hails from your culture. It’s tearing down people’s statues and painting over their murals, attacking their history and telling them their heroes were evil. 

The effects of death memes are, unfortunately, death:



Part two: Why are there suicide memes? will continue in the next post. 

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


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.


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?

Unemployment, Disability, and Death

Source: NPR, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Social Security Administration
Credit: Lam Thuy Vo

I’ve been reading about the rise of disability, eg NPR’s Unfit for Work: The Startling Rise of Disability in America:

In the past three decades, the number of Americans who are on disability has skyrocketed… every month, 14 million people now get a disability check from the government. The federal government spends more money each year on cash payments for disabled former workers than it spends on food stamps and welfare combined. … The vast majority of people on federal disability do not work. Yet because they are not technically part of the labor force, they are not counted among the unemployed.

In other words, people on disability don’t show up in any of the places we usually look to see how the economy is doing. But the story of these programs — who goes on them, and why, and what happens after that — is, to a large extent, the story of the U.S. economy. It’s the story not only of an aging workforce, but also of a hidden, increasingly expensive safety net.

A friend of mine was homeless for a couple of decades. During that time he was put on disability. To this day, he doesn’t know why. He kept trying to fight it. It offended his sensibilities that some bureaucrat thought he was “disabled.” He wanted to prove to them that he was able, that he could still work and do valuable things.

He eventually ended up with full-blown schizophrenia, so the government official was probably correct in the first place–people who are homeless for multiple years tend to have something wrong with them, even if they themselves don’t recognize it. But he didn’t have schizophrenia then. Then he was just poor, and “disability” is backup welfare for the poor.

If that doesn’t seem obvious, ask yourself what disability means. For the government, disability isn’t a matter of how much pain you’re in or how many limbs you have; it’s a matter of whether you’re too impaired to work.

The article points out that “unemployment” numbers are kept artificially low by not counting the disabled among the unemployed, even though many of the “disabled” are really “people who can’t get job”:

There’s a story we hear all the time these days that doesn’t, on its face, seem to have anything to do with disability: Local Mill Shuts Down. Or, maybe: Factory To Close. …

But after I got interested in disability, I followed up with some of the guys to see what happened to them after the mill closed. One of them, Scott Birdsall, went to lots of meetings where he learned about retraining programs and educational opportunities. At one meeting, he says, a staff member pulled him aside.

“Scotty, I’m gonna be honest with you,” the guy told him. “There’s nobody gonna hire you … We’re just hiding you guys.” The staff member’s advice to Scott was blunt: “Just suck all the benefits you can out of the system until everything is gone, and then you’re on your own.”

Scott, who was 56 years old at the time, says it was the most real thing anyone had said to him in a while.

There used to be a lot of jobs that you could do with just a high school degree, and that paid enough to be considered middle class. I knew, of course, that those have been disappearing for decades. What surprised me was what has been happening to many of the people who lost those jobs: They’ve been going on disability.

Note: the text string “imm” does not appear anywhere in the article.

In Hale County, Alabama, nearly 1 in 4 working-age adults is on disability.

Source: NPR Bureau of Labor Statistics, Social Security Administration
Credit: Lam Thuy Vo

As the article discusses, since the definition of “disabled” depends on your ability to get (or not) jobs, it depends, in turn, on the kinds of jobs a person is qualified to work. A programmer who has lost both legs in an accident can, with a few accommodations, still program perfectly well, whereas a farmer who needs to be able to do manual labor all day cannot. It’s easier to work despite a back problem if you have a college degree and can qualify for a white-collar job where you can sit down for most of the day. It’s harder if you have to carry heavy objects.

If you have a back problem and the only work you can get involves standing and carrying heavy things, well, that’s going to hurt.

Humans are fine at standing. Being on your feet a lot isn’t abstractly a problem. The Amish do tons of manual labor and they’re fine. But the Amish get to take bathroom breaks whenever they want. They can stretch or sit down if they need to. They get to dictate their own movements.

If you’re working at McDonald’s, your movements are dictated by the needs of the kitchen and the pace of the customers.

And that’s assuming you can get a job:

[Scott] took the advice of the rogue staffer who told him to suck all the benefits he could out of the system. He had a heart attack after the mill closed and figured, “Since I’ve had a bypass, maybe I can get on disability, and then I won’t have worry to about this stuff anymore.” It worked; Scott is now on disability.

Scott’s dad had a heart attack and went back to work in the mill. If there’d been a mill for Scott to go back to work in, he says, he’d have done that too. But there wasn’t a mill, so he went on disability. It wasn’t just Scott. I talked to a bunch of mill guys who took this path — one who shattered the bones in his ankle and leg, one with diabetes, another with a heart attack. When the mill shut down, they all went on disability.

Source: NPR Bureau of Labor Statistics, Social Security Administration
Credit: Lam Thuy Vo

The human body isn’t designed to stand in one place all day. We’re designed to move. A strong or desperate person can do it,but the vast majority find it unpleasant or painful. Do it for years, combine it with another condition, close the factory… and you’ll find a lot of people willing to take that disability check over moving to a new city to try their luck at the next factory, again and again and again as each factory shuts down, moves, or fires everyone and replaces them with immigrants willing to work for wages that make disability sound attractive:

But disability has also become a de facto welfare program for people without a lot of education or job skills. … Once people go onto disability, they almost never go back to work. Fewer than 1 percent of those who were on the federal program for disabled workers at the beginning of 2011 have returned to the workforce since then, one economist told me.

People who leave the workforce and go on disability qualify for Medicare… They also get disability payments from the government of about $13,000 a year. This isn’t great. But if your alternative is a minimum wage job that will pay you at most $15,000 a year, and probably does not include health insurance, disability may be a better option.

But, in most cases, going on disability means you will not work, you will not get a raise, you will not get whatever meaning people get from work. Going on disability means, assuming you rely only on those disability payments, you will be poor for the rest of your life. That’s the deal. And it’s a deal 14 million Americans have signed up for.

I know people who’ve taken this deal. The really sad part is the despair. When people are filing for disability, it means they’ve given up. It’s like we decided to have Universal Basic Income, only we structured it the wort way possible to make recipients miserable.

I mean, this is AMERICA. Our ancestors were PIONEERS. They BUILT this place from the ground up.
My grandmother still lives in the house my grandfather built. Nearby, you can still visit the house my great-grandfather built. Those houses have all sorts of oddities because they were built by hand with whatever was available.

And say what you will, much of America is still beautiful. Forests mountains lakes rivers grasslands deserts. Beautiful.

An elderly woman I know lives in an an area with stunning natural beauty. “I hate it here,” she complains. Why? Is she blind? People stay inside and watch TV and grow lonelier.

I saw this “wine glass” at the store last night.

It was advertised as “for mom!” because what every kid wants is a drunk, alcoholic caregiver.

The marketing of chic-tee-hee isn’t it cute that we’re alcoholics? alcoholism to women is disgusting. It’s a sign of how far we’ve sunk that people see this as funny instead of a desperate cry for help.

And I don’t think I need to delve into the statistics on the opiate crisis and rising death rates among younger white women. All of the people who’ve lost their lives to drug addictions.

. Most of you live near museums, rivers, forests, parks, or other lovely places.

I can’t solve our problems. But please, don’t stop living. Keep fighting.

What Ails Appalachia? Pt 3 (possibilities)

(Skip back to: Part 1, Part 2)

By the way, guys, I have not been able to write as much as I would like to, lately, so I am dropping the Wed. post and only going to be updating 4 times a week. Hopefully I’ll get more time soon. :)

It is very easy to dismiss Appalachia’s problems by waving a hand and saying, “West Virginia has an average IQ of 98.”

(98.7, actually.)

But there are a hell of a lot of states that have average IQs lower than West Virginia, but are still doing better. For that matter, France has a lower average IQ, and France is still doing pretty well for itself.

So we’re going to discuss some alternative theories.

(And my apologies to WV for using it as a stand-in for the entirety of Greater Appalachia, which, as discussed a few days ago, includes parts of a great number of states, from southern Pennsylvania to eastern Texas. Unfortunately for me, only WV, Kentucky, and Tennessee fall entirely within Greater Appalachia, and since it is much easier to find data aggregated by state than by county or “cultural region,” I’ve been dependent on these states for much of my research.)

At any rate, it’s no secret that Appalachia is not doing all that well:

 From The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy I really wish this were a graph instead of a map.county-economic-status_fy2015_mapsupertues2White-Death-by-State2



US Suicide Rates
US Suicide Rates


The Death of Manufacturing

Having your local industries decimated by foreign competition and workforces laid off due to automation does bad things to your economy. These things look great on paper, where increasing efficiency and specialization result in higher profits for factory owners, but tend to work out very badly for the folks who have lost their jobs.

Indeed, the US has barely even begun thinking about how we plan on dealing with the effects of continued automation. Do 90% of people simply become irrelevant as robots take over their jobs? Neither “welfare for everyone” nor “everybody starves” seem like viable solutions. So far, most politicians have defaulted to platitudes about how “more education” will be the solution to all our woes, but how you turn a 45-year old low-IQ meat packer who just got replaced by a robot into a functional member of the “information economy” remains to be seen.

Of course, economic downturns happen; fads come and go; industries go in and out. The Rust Belt, according to Wikipedia, runs north of Greater Appalachia, through Pennsylvania, New York, northern Ohio, Detroit, etc. These areas have been struggling for decades, but many of them, like Pittsburgh, are starting to recover. Appalachia, by contrast, is still struggling.

This may just be a side effect of Appalachia being more rural; Pittsburgh is a large city with millions of people employed in a variety of industries. If one goes out, others can, hopefully, replace it. But in a rural area with only one or two large employers–sometimes literal “company towns” built near mines–if the main industry goes out, you may not get anything coming back in.

Appalachia has geography that makes it difficult to transport goods in and out as cheaply as you can transport them elsewhere, but then, so does Switzerland, and Switzerland seems to be doing pretty well. (Of course, Switzerland seems to have specialized in small, expensive, easy to transport luxury goods like watches, chocolate, and bank deposits, while Appalachia has specialized in cheap, heavy, unpleasant to produce goods like coal.)

Ross PerotBut I am being over-generous: America killed its manufacturing.

We killed it because our upper classes look down their noses at manufacturing; such jobs are unpleasant and low-class, and therefore they cannot understand that for some people, these jobs are the only thing standing between them and poverty. Despite the occasional protest against outsourcing, our government–Republicans and Democrats–has forged ahead with its free-trade, send-everything-to-China-and-fire-the-Americans, import-Mexicans-and-fire-the-Americans, and then reap-the-profits agenda.

Too Much Regulation

Over-regulation begins with the best of intentions, then breaks your industries. Nobody wants to die in a fire or a cave-in, but you can’t regulate away all risk and still get anything done.

Every regulation, every record-keeping requirement, every mandated compliance, is a tax on efficiency–and thus on profits. Some regulation, of course, probably increases profits–for example, I am more likely to buy a medicine if I have some guarantee that it isn’t made with rat poison. But beyond that guarantee, increasing requirements that companies test all of their products for toxins imposes more costs than the companies recoup–at which point, companies tend to leave for more profitable climes.

Likewise, while health insurance sounds great, running it through employers is madness. Companies should devote their efforts to making products (or services,) not hiring expensive lawyers and accountants to work through the intricacies of health care law compliance and income withholding.

The few manufacturers left in Appalachia (and probably elsewhere in the country) have adopted a creative policy to avoid paying health insurance costs for their workers: fire everyone just before they qualify for insurance. By hiring only temp workers, outsourcing everything, and only letting employees bill 20 hours a week, manufacturers avoid complying with employee-related regulations.

Oh, sure, you might think you could just get two 20-hour a week jobs, but that requires being able to schedule two different jobs. When you have no idea whether you are going to be working every day or not until you show up for work at 7 AM, and you’ll get fired if you don’t show up, getting a second job simply isn’t an option.

I have been talking about over-regulation for over a decade, but it is the sort of issue that it is difficult to get people worked up over, much less make them understand if they haven’t lived it. Democrats just look aghast that anyone would suggest that more regulations won’t lead automatically to more goodness, and Republicans favor whichever policies lead to higher profits, without any concern for the needs of workers.

The late Andy Grove wrote insightfully on the subject: How America Can Create Jobs: (h/t Steve Sailer)

New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman recently encapsulated this view in a piece called “Start-Ups, Not Bailouts.” His argument: Let tired old companies that do commodity manufacturing die if they have to. If Washington really wants to create jobs, he wrote, it should back startups.

Friedman is wrong. Startups are a wonderful thing, but they cannot by themselves increase tech employment. Equally important is what comes after that mythical moment of creation in the garage, as technology goes from prototype to mass production. This is the phase where companies scale up. They work out design details, figure out how to make things affordably, build factories, and hire people by the thousands. Scaling is hard work but necessary to make innovation matter.

The scaling process is no longer happening in the U.S. And as long as that’s the case, plowing capital into young companies that build their factories elsewhere will continue to yield a bad return in terms of American jobs. …

As time passed, wages and health-care costs rose in the U.S. China opened up. American companies discovered that they could have their manufacturing and even their engineering done more cheaply overseas. When they did so, margins improved. Management was happy, and so were stockholders. Growth continued, even more profitably. But the job machine began sputtering.

The 10X Factor

Today, manufacturing employment in the U.S. computer industry is about 166,000, lower than it was before the first PC, the MITS Altair 2800, was assembled in 1975 (figure-B). Meanwhile, a very effective computer manufacturing industry has emerged in Asia, employing about 1.5 million workers—factory employees, engineers, and managers. The largest of these companies is Hon Hai Precision Industry, also known as Foxconn. The company has grown at an astounding rate, first in Taiwan and later in China. Its revenues last year were $62 billion, larger than Apple (AAPL), Microsoft (MSFT), Dell (DELL), or Intel. Foxconn employs over 800,000 people, more than the combined worldwide head count of Apple, Dell, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard (HPQ), Intel, and Sony (SNE) (figure-C).

Companies don’t scale up in the US because dealing with the regulations is monstrous. Anyone who has worked in industry can tell you this; heck, even Kim Levine, author of Millionaire Mommy (don’t laugh at the title, it’s actually a pretty good book,) touches on the subject. Levine notes that early in the process of scaling up the manufacture of her microwavable pillows, she had dreams of owning her own little factory, but once she learned about all of the regulations she would have to comply with, she decided that would be a horrible nightmare.

I don’t have time to go into more detail on the subject, but here is a related post from Slate Star Codex:

I started the book with the question: what exactly do real estate developers do? …

As best I can tell, the developer’s job is coordination. This often means blatant lies. The usual process goes like this: the bank would be happy to lend you the money as long as you have guaranteed renters. The renters would be happy to sign up as long as you show them a design. The architect would be happy to design the building as long as you tell them what the government’s allowing. The government would be happy to give you your permit as long as you have a construction company lined up. And the construction company would be happy to sign on with you as long as you have the money from the bank in your pocket. Or some kind of complicated multi-step catch-22 like that. The solution – or at least Trump’s solution – is to tell everybody that all the other players have agreed and the deal is completely done except for their signature. The trick is to lie to the right people in the right order, so that by the time somebody checks to see whether they’ve been conned, you actually do have the signatures you told them that you had. The whole thing sounds very stressful.

The developer’s other job is dealing with regulations. The way Trump tells it, there are so many regulations on development in New York City in particular and America in general that erecting anything larger than a folding chair requires the full resources of a multibillion dollar company and half the law firms in Manhattan. Once the government grants approval it’s likely to add on new conditions when you’re halfway done building the skyscraper, insist on bizarre provisions that gain it nothing but completely ruin your chance of making a profit, or just stonewall you for the heck of it if you didn’t donate to the right people’s campaigns last year. Reading about the system makes me both grateful and astonished that any structures have ever been erected in the United States at all, and somewhat worried that if anything ever happens to Donald Trump and a few of his close friends, the country will lose the ability to legally construct artificial shelter and we will all have to go back to living in caves.

and an eloquent post from Free Northerner:

The current socio-economic system is designed by rootless, soulless, high-IQ, low-time preference, money-/status-grubbing homo economicus for benefit of those same homo economicus. It is a system for designed for intelligent sociopaths. Those who are rootless with high-IQ and low-time preference can succeed rather well in this system, but it destroys those who need rootedness or those who are who are low-IQ or high time preference.

Kevin says, “Nothing happened to them. There wasn’t some awful disaster.” But he’s wrong, there was a disaster, but no just one, multiple related disasters all occurring simultaneously. …

Every support the white working class (and for that matter the black working class) had vanished within less than a generation. There was a concerted effort to destroy these supports, and this effort succeeded. Through minimal fault of their own the white working class was left with nothing holding them up.

Personally, I lack good first-hand insight into working class cultural matters; I have no idea how much Hollywood mores have penetrated and changed people’s practical lives in rural Arkansas. I must defer, there, to people more knowledgeable than myself.

focus_group_3-1024x878Death Rates

While death rates have been falling for the rest of the developed world and for America’s blacks and Hispanics, death rates have been rising over the past couple of decades for American whites–middle aged and younger white women, to be exact. They’re up pretty much everywhere, but Appalachia has been the hardest hit.

The first thing everyone seems to cite in response is meth. And indeed, it appears that there is a lot of meth in Appalachia (and a lot of other places):

Picture 17But I don’t think this explains why death rates are headed up among women. Maybe I’m wrong, (I know rather little about drug use patterns,) but it doesn’t seem like women would be more likely to OD on meth than men. If anything, I get the impression that illegal drugs that fuck you up and kill you are more of a guy thing than a gal thing. Men are probably far more likely to die of alcohol-related causes like drunk driving and cirrhosis of the liver than women, for example, and you don’t even have to deal with criminals to get alcohol.

drug-related-deaths-for-whites2So, while I agree that drugs appear to be a rising problem, I don’t think they are the problem. (And even still, drug overdoses only beg the deeper question of why more people are using drugs.)

As I mentioned a few posts ago, SpottedToad ran the death rate data by county and came up with three significant correlations: poverty, obesity, and disability. (I don’t know if he looked at meth/drug use by county.)

I, for one, am not surprised to find out that disabled, overweight people are not in the best of health.

XB5PnEfl sCObwySl QXqVso7lHere are SpottedToad’s graphs, showing the correlations he found–I recommend reading his entire post.

Obviously one possibility is that unemployed people feel stressed, binge on cheap crap, get sick, get SSDI, and then die.

But then why are death rates only going up for white women? Plenty of white men are unemployed; plenty of black men and women are poor, fat, and disabled.

Obviously there are a ton of possible confounders–perhaps poor people just happen to make bad life decisions that both make them poor and result in bad health, like smoking cigarettes. Perhaps poor people have worse access to health care, or perhaps being really sick makes people poor. Or maybe the high death rates just happen to be concentrated among people who happen to be fat for purely biological reasons–it appears that the British are among the fattest peoples in Europe, and the Scottish are fatter than the British average. (Before anyone gets their hackles up, I should also note that white Americans are slightly fatter than Scots.)

And as many people have noted, SSI/SSDI are welfare for people who wouldn’t otherwise qualify.


In Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, Dr. Price (a peripatetic dentist who traveled the world in search of good teeth in the 1930s,) writes:

In my correspondence with an observing teacher in the hill country of western Pennsylvania, she reported that in her school a condition was frequent in the families, namely, that the children could not carry prescribed textbook work because of low mentality. This is often spoken of, though incorrectly, as delayed mentality. In one family of eight children only the first child was normal. The mental and physical injuries were increasingly severe. The eighth child had both hare-lip and a double cleft palate. The seventh child had cleft palate and the sixth was a near idiot. The second to fifth, inclusive, presented increasing degrees of disturbed mentality.

In my cabin-to-cabin studies of families living in the hill country of North Carolina, I found many cases of physical and mental injury. Among these cases arthritis and heart disease were very frequent, many individuals being bed ridden. A typical case is shown in the upper part of figure 148 [sorry, I can’t show you the picture, but it is not too important,] of a father and mother and their one child. The child is so badly injured that he is mentally an imbecile. They are living on very poor land where even the vegetable growth is scant and of poor quality. Their food consisted largely of corn bread, corn syrup, some fat pork, and strong coffee.

As the title of the book implies, Dr. Price’s thesis is that bad nutrition leads to physical degeneration. (Which, of course, it does.) He was working back when folks were just discovering vitamins and figuring out that diseases like curvy, pellagra, and beriberi were really nutritional deficiencies; figuring out the chemical compositions necessary for fertile soil; and before the widespread adoption of artificial fertilizers (possibly before their invention.) Dr. Price thought that American soils, particularly in areas that had been farmed for longer or had warmer, wetter weather, had lost much of their nutritional content:

My studies of this problem of reduced capacity of sols for maintaining animal life have included correspondence with the agricultural departments of all of the states of the union with regard to maintaining cattle. The reduction in capacity ranges from 20 to 90 per cent… I am advised that it would cost $50 an acre to replace the phosphorus alone that has been shipped off the land in large areas.

There is an important fact that we should consider; namely, the role that has been played by glaciers in grinding up and distributing rock formations. One glacier, the movement of which affected the surface soil of Ohio, covered only about half the state; namely, that area west of a line starting east of Cleveland and extending diagonally west across the state to Cincinnati. It is important for us to note that, in the areas extending south and east of this line, several expressions of degeneration are higher than in the areas north and west of this line. The infant mortality per thousand live births in 1939 is informative. In the counties north and west of that line, the death rate was from 40 49 per thousand live births; whereas, in the area south and east of that Line, the death rate was from 50 to 87.

It is of particular interest to us as dentists that studies show the percentage of teeth with caries to be much higher southeast of this line than northwest of it.

Picture 2bSo I Googled around, and found this map of the last glaciation of Ohio:

Okay, I lied, it’s obviously a map of ACT scores. But it actually does look a lot like the glaciation map.

Australia’s soils, from what I understand, are particularly bad–because the continent’s rocks are so geologically old, the soil is extremely low in certain key nutrients, like iodine. Even with iodine supplementation, deficiencies are still occasionally a problem.

I don’t know anything about the soils of Appalachia, but I know the Appalachian mountains are pretty old. The WV Encyclopedia article about Agriculture says:

Many of the soils in the state are steeply sloping and tend to be shallow, acidic, and deficient in available phosphorus. As early as the late 19th century progressive farmers used rock phosphate, bone meal, and lime to increase crop yield and quality. Since the mid-20th century farmers have used soil tests and corrected mineral deficiencies. Most crop land and much of the pasture land are no longer severely deficient in essential nutrients. West Virginia has always been primarily a livestock producing state. Land on steep slopes is best suited to producing pasture and hay.

Nutritional deficiencies due to poor soil could have been a problem a century ago, just as Pellagra and hookworms were a problem, but they seem unlikely to be a big deal today, given both modern fertilizers and our habit of buying foods shipped in from California.

What about pollution?

According to In Appalachia, Coal Mining Costs $9-$76 Billion More Per Year Than It Pulls In:

20090713-mountaintop-removal-coal-mineLooking at statistics from 2005 (the latest for which mortality rates are available) the researchers found that though coal mining brought in about $8 billion to the state coffers of Appalachian states, the costs of the shorter life-spans associated with coal mining operations were nearly $17 billion to $84.5 billion.

Coal mining areas in Appalachia were found to have nearly 11,000 more deaths each year than other places in the nation, with 2,300 of those attributable to environmental factors such as air and water pollution.

The Nation reports that:

In 2010, an explosion at the Upper Big Branch coal mine in southern West Virginia killed twenty-nine miners. Later that year, an explosion at a West Virginia chemical plant killed two workers and released toxic fumes into the surrounding areas. This past year, West Virginia led the nation in coal-mining deaths. …

One study found that residents of areas surrounding mountaintop-removal coal mines “had significantly higher mortality rates, total poverty rates and child poverty rates every year compared to other…counties.” Another study found that compared to residents of other areas in the state, residents of the state’s coal-mining regions were 70 percent more likely to suffer from kidney disease, over 60 percent more likely to develop obstructive lung diseases such as emphysema and 30 percent likelier to have high blood pressure.

In 2014, the Elk River Chemical spill left 300,000 residents of West Virginia without potable water. Five months later, another spill happened at the same site, the fourth in five years. (The chemicals involved are used int he processing/washing of coal.)

According to Plundering Appalachia:

Overloaded coal trucks are a perpetual menace on the narrow, winding roads of the Appalachian coalfields. From 2000 to 2004, there were more than seven hundred accidents involving coal trucks in Kentucky alone; fifty-three people died, and more than five hundred were injured. …

After the coal is washed, a slurry of impurities, coal dust, and chemical agents used in the process remains. This liquid waste, called “coal sludge” or “slurry,” is often injected into abandoned underground mines, a practice that can lead to groundwater contamination. … In public hearings, many coalfield residents have attributed their health problems to water wells polluted after the coal mining industry “disposes” its liquid waste by injecting coal slurry underground. The primary disposal practice for coal slurry is to store it in vast unlined lagoons or surface impoundments created near mountaintop-removal mines. Hundreds of these slurry impoundments are scattered across the Appalachian coalfields. Individual impoundments have been permitted to store billions of gallons of waste. … In 2000 a slurry impoundment operated by the Martin County Coal Company in Kentucky broke through into abandoned mineworks, out old mine portals, and into tributary streams of the Big Sandy River. More than 300 million gallons of coal slurry fouled the waterway for a hundred miles downriver.

So, living near a coal mine is probably bad for your health.

Concentration of Land

Wikipedia claims that land in Appalachia (or maybe it was just WV) is highly concentrated in just a few hands–one of those being the government, as much of Appalachia is national parks and forests and the like. Of course, this could be an effect rather than a cause of poverty.

Brain Drain

Appalachia may be “isolated” and “rural,” but it’s quite close to a great many cities and universities. Parts of West Virginia are close enough to DC that people apparently commute between them.

In the early 1900s, so many people left Appalachia for the industrial cities of the Northeast and Midwest that U.S. Route 23 and Interstate 75 became known as the “Hillbilly Highway.” (BTW, I don’t think Appalachians like being called “hillbillies.”)

Compared to Appalachian areas in Arkansas or Oklahoma, West Virginia and Kentucky are particularly close to the industrial regions and coastal universities. As a result, they may have lost a far larger number of their brightest and most determined citizens.

While the Appalachian states don’t have particularly low IQs, their IQ curve seems likely to be narrower than other states’. West Virginia, for example, is only about 3% black, 1% Hispanic, and 0.5% Asian. MA, by contrast, is 9% black, 11% Hispanic, and 6% Asian. Blacks and Hispanics tend to score lower than average on IQ tests, and Asians tend to score higher, potentially giving MA more people scoring both above and below average, while WV may have more people scoring right around the middle of the distribution. With its brightest folks heading to universities outside the region, Appalachia may continue to struggle.


And finally, yes, maybe there is just something about the kinds of people who live in Appalachia that predispose them to certain ailments, like smoking or over-eating. Perhaps the kinds of people who end up working in coal mines are also the kinds of people who are predisposed to get cancer or use drugs. I don’t know enough people from the area to know either way.


To the people of Appalachia: I wish you health and happiness.

(Skip back to: Part 1, Part 2)

What Ails Appalachia?

Blue Ridge Mountains, Appalachia
Blue Ridge Mountains, Appalachia

Jayman's map of the American Nations
Jayman’s map of the American Nations

(Skip to: Part 2, Part 3.)

Appalachia is a lovely geographic region of low mountains stretching from southern NY state to northeastern Mississippi; as a cultural region, “Greater Appalachia” includes all of West Virginia and Kentucky; almost all of Tennessee and Indiana; large chunks of Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Illinois, Ohio, North Carolina, and Virginia; small parts of nearby states like Alabama and Pennsylvania; and a few counties in the northwest Florida (not on the map.) (The lack of correspondence between state boundaries and Appalachia’s boundaries makes most state-level aggregated data useless and forces me to use county level data whenever possible.)

While generally considered part of “the South,” Appalachia is culturally and ethnically distinct from the “Deep South,” generally opposed secession (West Virginia seceded from Virginia following Virginia’s secession from the Union in order to return to the Union,) and never had an economy based on large, slave-owning plantations.

Per capita GDP by county (wikipedia)
Per capita GDP by county (wikipedia)

Appalachia is also one of the US’s persistent areas of concentrated poverty (the others are the highly black regions of the Deep South and their migrant diaspora in northern inner-cities; the Mexican region along the Texas border; and Indian reservations.) Almost 100% of the nation’s poorest counties are located in these areas; indeed, the Southern states + New Mexico as a whole are significantly poorer than the Northern ones.

First a note, though, on poverty:

There is obviously a great difference between the “poverty” of someone who chooses a low-income lifestyle in a rural part of the country because they enjoy it and are happy trading off money for pleasure, and someone who struggles to stay employed at crappy, demeaning jobs, cannot make rent, and is miserable. Farming tends not to pay as well as finance, but I don’t think anyone would be better off if all of the farmers parked their tractors and took up finance. Farmers seem pretty happy with their lives and contribute to the nation’s well-being by producing food. By contrast, I’ve yet to talk to anyone employed in fast food who enjoyed their job or wanted to stay in the industry; if they could trade for a job in finance, they’d probably take it.

6398967_origUnfortunately, Appalachia (and parts of the Deep South) appear to be the most depressed states in the country. (No data for KY and NC, but I bet they match their neighbors.) Given that depression rates tend to be higher for whites than for blacks, I suspect the effect is concentrated among Southern whites, but I wouldn’t be surprised if black people in Mississippi are depressed, too.

Of course, depression itself may just be genetic, and the Scandinavian ancestors of the northern mid-west may have gifted their descendants with a uniquely chipper outlook on life, except that Scandinavians have pretty high suicide rates.

US Suicide Rates
US Suicide Rates

(Note also that Appalachia has higher suicide rates than the black regions of the Deep South, the Hispanic El Norte, and white regions in NY.)

This high suicide rate may have something to do with, as Steve Sailer has taken to calling it, “The White Death.” As Gelman has noted, death rates have been increasing for middle aged white women, in contrast to virtually everyone else.

The white death rate is highest in Mississippi, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas, Kentucky, Nevada, and South Carolina, with the greatest increases in death rates in West Virginia and Mississippi.

White-Death-by-State2I have assembled a list of articles and a few quotes discussing the increasing white death rates:

The White Death, Death Rates Up among 25-34 year old Whites, Too, Why are White Women Dying Young? Death Rate Still Rising for Middle Aged White Women, Why are White Death Rates Rising? The White Death:

“When I looked into the dataset that Case and Deaton used ( ) and mixed it with Census Data, it appeared that there were three main predictors of county-level death rates for middle aged whites:
1) Median income
2) Obesity
3) SSI-Disability …”  — Spotted Toad

White Death Deaton vs. Gelman, Why are White Women Dying Young?  The White Death and the Black Death:

“I hang out in WV fracking country from time to time. The local community college had a 1 year program to learn how to become a “tool handler” (or something). Get your certificate, and go straight to work making $50k / year – good money is a crummy economy. The program was under-subscribed because the majority of the applicants failed the drug test.” — Jim Don Bob

NY Times: How the Epidemic of Drug Overdose Deaths Ripples Across America, Why are so many Middle Aged Whites Dying? Why did Middle Aged White Death Rates increase from 1998 through 2013? Why is Pennsylvania Outpacing Virginia and Ohio?

“… SSDI (“disability”) culture has been deeply entrenched in West Virginia for decades, particularly in the southern coal counties where work-related injuries have historically been common…” — Chip Smith

But we will get back to death rates later. For now, given high rates of poverty, depression, suicide, and rising death rates, I’m willing to say that Appalachia sounds like it is in distress. Yes, it’s probably a drugs and obesity problem; the question is why?

The generally accepted explanation in HBD circles for Appalachian poverty is IQ–“West Virginia has an average IQ of 98”–and the personalities of its Scotch-Irish founding population. I find this inadequate. For starters, West Virginia’s average IQ of 98.7 is slightly higher than the national average. And yet West Virginia is the second poorest state in the country, with a per capita GDP of only $30,389 (in 2012 dollars.) (Only Mississippi is poorer, and Mississippi has the lowest IQ in the country.)

If IQ were the whole story, West Virginians would be making about $42,784 a year, the national average.

For that matter, Canada’s IQ is 97, Norway, Austria, Denmark, and France has IQs of 98, and Poland and Hungary are up at 99. Their respective per cap GDPs (in 2014 $s, unfortunately): $44,057, 64,856, 46,223, 44,916, 38,848, 24,745, 24,721 (but Poland and Hungary are former Soviet countries whose economies are believed to have been retarded by years of Communism.)

So IQ does not explain Appalachian poverty. But it is getting late, so I will have to continue this tomorrow.

(Head on over to: Part 2, Part 3.)