Archive for August 2017

The Diversity Paradox

I thought this was an interesting observation by University of New Mexico evolutionary psychology professor Geoffrey Miller, as quoted by Mark Perry:

Here, I just want to take a step back from the [Google] memo controversy, to highlight a paradox at the heart of the ‘equality and diversity’ dogma that dominates American corporate life. The memo didn’t address this paradox directly, but I think it’s implicit in the author’s critique of Google’s diversity programs. This dogma relies on two core assumptions:

  • The human sexes and races have exactly the same minds, with precisely identical distributions of traits, aptitudes, interests, and motivations; therefore, any inequalities of outcome in hiring and promotion must be due to systemic sexism and racism;
  • The human sexes and races have such radically different minds, backgrounds, perspectives, and insights, that companies must increase their demographic diversity in order to be competitive; any lack of demographic diversity must be due to short-sighted management that favors groupthink.

The obvious problem is that these two core assumptions are diametrically opposed. Let me explain. If different groups have minds that are precisely equivalent in every respect, then those minds are functionally interchangeable, and diversity would be irrelevant to corporate competitiveness. On the other hand, if demographic diversity gives a company any competitive advantages, it must be because there are important sex differences and race differences in how human minds work and interact.

Bottom Line: So, psychological interchangeability makes diversity meaningless. But psychological differences make equal outcomes impossible. Equality or diversity. You can’t have both. Weirdly, the same people who advocate for equality of outcome in every aspect of corporate life, also tend to advocate for diversity in every aspect of corporate life. They don’t even see the fundamentally irreconcilable assumptions behind this ‘equality and diversity’ dogma. American businesses also have to face the fact that the demographic differences that make diversity useful will not lead to equality of outcome in every hire or promotion. Equality or diversity: choose one.

Perry illustrates this with one of his ubiquitous Venn diagrams, which I am always happy to see because it just increases my royalties.

Perhaps Trump's Craziest Action

Trump seems to have adopted the Dow Jones Industrial Average as his primary metric of success.   Talk about buying at the top.  Not sure I would tie my performance appraisal to a market where the Shiller PE is over 30.

I Liked This Guy's Movie Analyses

My daughter sent me links to this YouTube channel discussing the mechanics of movie screenplays.  Below is an analysis of how Tarantino makes a couple of long, incredibly suspenseful scenes in Inglorious Basterds (the first scene in the farmhouse and the later scene in the basement bar).

Update:  If you want a comparison, go see Dunkirk.  This is a good movie in its way, and I really enjoy Nolan's movies.  But there are several spots where he is clearly trying to build suspense and he does not do it as well as Tarantino.  One movie that might compare to Tarantino on stress might be the last 15 minutes of Argo, though I have not seen it for a while.

Hmm. You Might Not Want To Fly In An Airplane Built By A Current Purdue Graduate

I used to think some of the stuff in Atlas Shrugged was absurd satire.  This from Q&O:

The recently appointed dean of Purdue’s school, Dr. Donna Riley, has an ambitious agenda.

In her words (bold mine): “I seek to revise engineering curricula to be relevant to a fuller range of student experiences and career destinations, integrating concerns related to public policy, professional ethics, and social responsibilityde-centering Western civilization; and uncovering contributions of women and other underrepresented groups…. We examine how technology influences and is influenced by globalizationcapitalism, and colonialism…. Gender is a key…[theme]…[throughout] the course…. We…[examine]… racist and colonialist projects in science….”

Overhyped Things That Don't Disappoint: Hamilton

We went to visit family in Chicago and in the process saw Hamilton there.  While expensive, it was a lot cheaper than New York and having listened to the Broadway cast album many times, I think the cast in Chicago was very competitive with Broadway.  And it was fabulous.  Really.  I know there is a tendency if one spends a lot of money on an event to convince oneself it was worth the money, but it really was in this case.

In most musicals I walk out singing a particular song.  Out of Hamilton, I find myself singing about 8 songs.   I had one pre-show decision in which I am not sure if I did the right thing -- I had a choice of listening to the soundtrack in advance or seeing the musical fresh on the stage.  I chose the former, mainly because in several songs the lyrics are so clever and come so fast and furious that it take a number of listenings to really appreciate them.  But I probably missed something by not seeing it fresh and new on the stage.

I will say that this has got to be the most unlikely musical ever.  I can just see the pitch -- I want to do a musical in rap featuring Hamilton and Jefferson debating about Federal assumption of state debt.    Seriously, it sounds more like a lead in to a Leonard Pinth-Garnell sketch on Really Bad Musical Theater on SNL.  But it works.

Movie Game: Spot the Rifle

My kids and I drive my wife crazy when we are watching a movie at home.  We have all kinds of conversations going, conversations we would never even consider in a theater (another reason, beyond screen size and sound systems, why I consider the home movie watching experience distinct and not entirely competitive with the theater experience).   No movie can be watched without a dozen IMDB lookups of what else so and so actor was in.

One game we play is spot the rifle.  This probably does not mean what you think it means.  It refers to Checkov's rule (the writer, not the astrogator) never to put a rifle on stage in Act 1 if someone is not going to use it in Act 3.  Our game assumes that movies are following this rule, so we look for elements sometimes awkwardly thrown into Act 1 so they can be used later.  Note this is distinct from a macguffin, and is really not the same as foreshadowing either.  The "save the clock tower" fund raiser early in Back to the Future is an example.  Calling your shot in this game, like on Jeopardy, requires the answer to be in a specific form, ie "Never put a lightening strike on a clock tower on stage in Act 1 if you are not going to use it in Act 3".  It goes without saying that winning answers must be shouted out in Act 1, not Act 3.

My daughter, who is quite an aficionado of romantic comedies, texted me an updated corollary:  Don't put a pregnant woman on stage in act 1 of a comedy unless she is going to go into labor at the most inconvenient moment in act 3.

Postscript:  The "Q" armorer dynamic in James Bond is a version of this on steroids.  The rules of Q were:  1.  Every tool he gives Bond gets used and 2.  No matter how odd or arcane the tool (e.g. high powered electromagnet built into a condom) it turns out to be exactly the niche tool Bond needs to escape at some point.   For example, one and only one time is Bond issued with a CPR device but that one time he needs it to save his life (Daniel Craig version of Casino Royale).

My Views on BLM

I was at a function the other day when I was challenged to take a position on the stupid 'black lives matter vs. all lives matter' false dichotomy.    I was fortunate to be in a group that actually let me answer with more nuance.  Here is essentially what I said:

  1. There is a real problem with police accountability and police violence in this country, one I have been writing about since long before the BLM movement was even created.
  2. The harm of these police accountability issues falls disproportionately, but not solely, on blacks and other minority ethnic groups
  3. For any number of reasons, fixing racism is not the immediate answer.  Most obviously, because racism is super-hard to eradicate and has persisted (though improved, IMO) despite a lot of attention over many decades.   It is hard to point to any time and place in human history when some folks have not been seduced by in-group-out-group thinking.  The other reason is that the primary issue is accountability, not racism.  We give police special powers to use force that the rest of us do not have, but impose less accountability on them for the use of force than the rest of us face.  No matter how good most police officers are, this accountability problem is going to allow bad eggs to repeatedly abuse their power.
  4. There are real, identifiable steps that can actually increase police accountability and transparency and reduce the types of police violence incidents BLM was formed to oppose.  Early on, BLM actually identified a pretty good list.
  5. BLM did a fabulous job of raising awareness and putting these issues near the center of political discussion.
  6. Having done so, BLM now has gone completely off the rails.  It appears to be entirely focused on virtue-signalling and disruption and support of progressive issues completely tangential to its initial focus.  It has no coherent action plan.  Colin Kapernick torpedoed his own football career to bring attention to BLM, but once he did so and had microphones thrust in his face from every direction, neither he nor any of his supporters had anything specific to advocate for, other than outrage and telegraphing their victim status.
  7. Progress can be made on these issues, but what it will take is a hard city by city slog to change the rules that govern police discipline and transparency.   As I wrote before, BLM "could learn a lot from Conservative and libertarian groups like ALEC, that focus on creating model legislation and local success stories that can be copied in other places."
  8. Republicans often oppose police accountability steps -- they don't just support the police, they fetishize them.  But the cities that most cry out for new accountability rules -- New York, Chicago, Detroit, Baltimore, St. Louis, Los Angeles -- are have Democratic super-majorities and governments whose officials almost to a one have come out publicly in support of BLM.  So why no progress?  One big barrier is the Democratic Party's unwavering support for public employee unions, and it is police unions that are the biggest barrier to implementing the steps BLM should be demanding.  This is another side of this issue discussed earlier in the week.

Social Justice Warriors in One Photo: Virtue Signalling > Actual Change

 

Update:  Finem Respice had a great photo in the same vein back during Occupy Wall Street.

A Government Healthcare Alternative

A few years ago I began to find the hard-core libertarian anarcho-capitalist advocacy to be getting sterile.  I would sit in some local discussion groups and the things we would argue about were so far outside of reality or what was realistically politically possible that they seemed pointless to talk about.  Taking a simplified example, baseball purists can argue all day the designated hitter rule should go away but it is never going to happen (players support it because it creates another starting roster spot and owners like it because it juices offensive numbers which drive ratings).  So I embarked on suggesting some left-right compromise positions on certain issues.

One result was my proposed climate compromise, which fit the classic definition of a good compromise (both sides don't like it) as many skeptics disowned me for writing it and the environmental Left campaigned hard against a similar proposal in Washington State.

I tried something similar with a proposal for restructuring the government role in health care.  First, I defined what I think are the two most important problems a government health care proposal has to address.  Most current and proposed plans fail to address at least one of these:

The first is a problem largely of the government's own creation, that incentives (non-tax-ability of health care benefits) and programs (e.g. Medicare) have been created for first dollar third-party payment of medical expenses.  This growth of third-party payment has eliminated the incentives for consumers to shop and make tradeoffs for health care purchases, the very activities that impose price and quality discipline on most other markets.

The second problem that likely dominates everyone's fears is getting a bankrupting medical expense whose costs are multiples of one's income, and having that care be either uninsured or leading to cancellation of one's insurance or future years.

I think the second point is key.  Everyone keeps talking about a goal of having coverage -- coverage even if you don't have money or don't have pre-existing conditions.  But that is not, I think, the real human need here.  The real need is to be protected from catastrophe, a personal health-care crisis so expensive it might bankrupt you, or even worse, might deny you the ability to get the full range of life-saving care.  Everything else in the health care debate and rolled up in Obamacare is secondary to this need.  Sure there are many other "asks" out there for things people would like to have or wish they had or might kind of like to have, but satisfy this need and the majority of Americans will be satisfied.

And so I proposed this:

So my suggestion ... was to scrap whatever we are doing now and have the government pay all medical expenses over 10% of one's income.  Anything under that was the individual's responsibility, though some sort of tax-advantaged health savings account would be a logical adjunct program.

I found out later that Megan McArdle, who knows way more about health care policy than I, has been suggestion something similar.

How would a similar program work for health care? The government would pick up 100 percent of the tab for health care over a certain percentage of adjusted gross income—the number would have to be negotiated through the political process, but I have suggested between 15 and 20 percent. There could be special treatment for people living at or near the poverty line, and for people who have medical bills that exceed the set percentage of their income for five years in a row, so that the poor and people with chronic illness are not disadvantaged by the system.

In exchange, we would get rid of the tax deduction for employer-sponsored health insurance, and all the other government health insurance programs, with the exception of the military’s system, which for obvious reasons does need to be run by the government. People would be free to insure the gap if they wanted, and such insurance would be relatively cheap, because the insurers would see their losses strictly limited. Or people could choose to save money in a tax-deductible health savings account to cover the eventual likelihood of a serious medical problem.

A few weeks ago I started reading the blog from the Niskanen Center after my friend Brink Lindsey moved there from Cato.  If I understand him, Niskanen has quickly become a home to many libertarian-ish folks who focus on real workable, executable policy proposals more than maintaining libertarian purity.  In that blog, Ed Dolan has proposed something he calls UCC (Universal Catastrophic Coverage) which would work very similarly to what I proposed earlier:

Universal catastrophic coverage is not meant to cover every healthcare need of every citizen. Instead, UCC would offer protection from those relatively rare but ruinous healthcare expenses that are truly unaffordable. (Note: As we use the term UCC here, it is not to be confused with the more narrowly defined catastrophic insurance that is available, in limited circumstances, under the ACA.)

Here is how UCC might work, as outlined in National Affairs by Kip Hagopian and Dana Goldman. Their version of the policy would scale each family’s deductible according to household income. The exact parameters would be subject to negotiation, but to use some simplified numbers, the deductible might be set equal to 10 percent of the amount by which a household’s income exceeds the Medicaid eligibility level, now about $40,000 for a family of four. Under that formula, a middle-class family earning $85,000 a year would face a deductible of $4,500 per family member, perhaps capped at twice that amount for households of more than two people. Following the same formula, the deductible for a household with $1 million of income would be $96,000.

The cost of the catastrophic policy would be covered by the government, either directly or through a refundable tax credit. The policies themselves could, as in the Swiss model, be offered by private insurers, subject to clear standards for pricing and coverage. Alternatively, they could take the form of a public option, for example, the right to buy into a high-deductible version of Medicare.

With UCC in place, people could choose among several ways to meet their out-of-pocket costs, which, for middle-class families, would be comparable to those of policies now offered on the ACA exchanges.

One alternative would be to buy supplemental insurance to cover all or part of expenses up to the UCC deductible. The premiums for such supplemental coverage would be far lower than policies now sold on the ACA exchanges, since the UCC policy would set a ceiling on claims for which the insurer would be responsible. If the supplemental policies included modest deductibles or co-pays of their own, they would be more affordable still. Although UCC itself would be a federal program, the supplemental insurance market would continue to be regulated by the states to meet their particular needs.

Very likely, many middle-class families would forego supplemental insurance and cover all of their routine health care costs from their regular household budgets, the way they now pay for repairs to their homes or cars. Doing so would be easier still if they took advantage of tax-deductible health savings accounts—a mechanism that is already on the books, and could be expanded as part of reform legislation.

The main thing that has always flummoxed me is that I have no idea how expensive this plan might be.  Dolan is claiming it could be done at reasonable cost.

As it turns out, the numbers don’t look all that bad. Because UCC leaves responsibility for routine care with individual families, in line with their ability to pay, it would be far less expensive than a system that offered first-dollar coverage to everyone. Hagopian and Goldman estimate that their version of UCC would cost less than half as much as the projected costs of the ACA.

The impact on the federal budget would be further moderated if the tax deduction for employer-sponsored insurance (ESI) were phased out as UCC came online. Tax expenditures for ESI currently cost the budget an estimated $235 billion per year, an

Employing People in California Really is Harder

California is a uniquely difficult place for companies trying to actually employ people rather than robots.   Owning a business in that state, you could be forgiven that the legislation actually embarked on a program to explicitly punish companies for hiring people.  The state has spent the last ten or twenty years defining a myriad of micro offenses employees for which  may sue employers and make large recoveries -- everything from having to work through lunch to having the wrong chair and not getting to sit in that chair at the right times of day.

To illustrate this, I want to show you the insurance application I just received.  Most companies have something called employment practices liability insurance.  This insurance helps pay legal and some settlement expenses if and (nowadays) when a company is sued by an employee for things like discrimination or harassment or any of the variety of sue-your-boss offenses California has established.  In that multi-page application, after the opening section about name and address, the very first risk-related question asks this:

They specifically ask about your California employment, and no other state, in order to evaluate your risk.

The other insurance-related result of California's regulatory enviroment is that if one is in California, it is almost impossible to get an employee practices insurance deductible under $25,000.  This turns out to be just about exactly the amount of legal costs it takes to get a nuisance suit filed with no real grounding dismissed.  It essentially means that any disgruntled ex-employee, particularly one in a protected class, can point their finger at a company without any evidence whatsoever and cost that company about $25,000 in legal expenses.  Rising minimum wages is not the only reason MacDonald's is investing so much in robotics.

More NCAA Discrimination Against Athletes With Stupid Amateurism Rules

When I was a senior at Princeton, Brooke Shields was a freshman.  At the time of her matriculation, she was already a highly paid professional model and actress (Blue Lagoon).  No one ever suggested that she not be allowed to participate in the amateur Princeton Triangle Club shows because she was already a professional.

When I was a sophomore at Princeton, I used to sit in my small dining hall (the now-defunct Madison Society) and listen to a guy named Stanley Jordan play guitar in a really odd way.  Jordan was already a professional musician (a few years after he graduated he would release an album that was #1 on the jazz charts for nearly a year).  Despite the fact that Jordan was a professional and already earned a lot of money from his music, no one ever suggested that he not be allowed to participate in a number of amateur Princeton music groups and shows.

My daughter is an art major at a school called Art Center in Pasadena (where she upsets my preconceived notions of art school by working way harder than I did in college).  She and many, if not most of her fellow students have sold their art for money already, but no one as ever suggested that they not be allowed to participate in school art shows and competitions.

And then there are athletics.

 A football player for the University of Central Florida has lost his place in the team, and hence his scholarship, due to his YouTube channel. UCF kicker Donald De La Haye runs "Deestroying," which has over 90,000 subscribers and has amassed 5 million views, thus far. It's not the channel itself that cost him his scholarship, though -- it's the fact that he has athletics-related videos on a monetized account.

The NCAA saw his videos as a direct violation to its rule that prohibits student athletes from using their status to earn money. UCF's athletics department negotiated with the association, since De La Haye sends the money he earns from YouTube to his family in Costa Rica. The association gave him two choices: he can keep the account monetized, but he has to stop referencing his status as a student athlete and move the videos wherein he does. Or, he has to stop monetizing his account altogether. Since De La Haye chose not to accept either option, he has been declared inelegible to play in any NCAA-sanctioned competition, effectively ending his college football career.

When I was a sophomore at Princeton, my sister was a Freshman.  We were sitting in my dorm the first week of school, watching US Open tennis as we were big tennis fans at the time.  My sister told me that she still had not heard from her fourth roommate yet, which was sort of odd.  About that time, the semifinals of the US Open were just beginning and would feature an upstart named Andrea Leand.  My sister says, hey -- that's the name of my roommate.  And so it was.  Andrea was a professional tennis player, just like Brook Shields was already a professional actress and Stanley Jordan was already a professional musician.  But unlike these others, Andrea was not allowed to pursue her talent at Princeton.

I don't know if student athletes should be paid by the school or not.  We can leave that aside as a separate question.  People of great talent attend universities and almost all of them -- with the exception of athletes -- are allowed to monetize that talent at the same time they are using it on campus.  Athletes should have the same ability.

Postscript:  I wrote about this years ago in Forbes.    As I wrote there:

The whole amateur ideal is just a tired holdover from the British aristocracy, the blue-blooded notion that a true "gentleman" did not actually work for a living but sponged off the local [populace] while perfecting his golf or polo game.  These ideas permeated British universities like Oxford and Cambridge, which in turn served as the model for many US colleges.  Even the Olympics, though,  finally gave up the stupid distinction of amateur status years ago, allowing the best athletes to compete whether or not someone has ever paid them for anything.

In fact, were we to try to impose this same notion of "amateurism" in any other part of society, or even any other corner of University life, it would be considered absurd.  Do we make an amateur distinction with engineers?  Economists?  Poets?...

In fact, of all the activities on campus, the only one a student cannot pursue while simultaneously getting paid is athletics.  I am sure that it is just coincidence that athletics happens to be, by orders of magnitude, far more lucrative to universities than all the other student activities combined.