Wednesday, 1 November 2017

No, No, No! A Top Economist Would Never Say This!!

A top economist would never say that inequality is the biggest danger to global growth, because it is flatly untrue. In fact, quite the opposite, global growth and the great enrichment of humanity in the past 200 years has been so astounding that it has rendered 'equality' a largely insignificant goal. In other words, humanity is doing so well compared to any other time in the last 200,000 years that the only reason people talk so much about inequality is because humans have so much prosperity in terms of consumption and standard of living.

For a long time I have challenged anyone to come forward and give a reason why inequality is actually a problem, and nobody has ever been able to provide anything substantive. When they posit a problem with inequality they never actually mean inequality, they mean poverty - which, of course, we all agree is a problem wherever it occurs - but that is to do with absolute well-being, not inequality - which remains one of the most bizarre human obsessions in the world.

In terms of human consumption, the world has never been so equal. It is equal in ways that people of a few hundred years ago wouldn't have thought possible. Those preoccupied with the Hegelian dialectic and the materialist conception of history will be keen to bang on about how much capital is in the hands of those that control the means of production, and that there is too much of a wage gap between the rich and the poor. But that interpretation misunderstands what wages are and why this isn't a problem that needs artificially fixing.

Wages are determined by the skill level of the job in terms of how easy it would be for the next person in line to come in and do the job, and they are also determined by the other job opportunities the worker has. This is why if you went to your boss and asked her to add 20% to your salary you wouldn't find yourself beaten down by her egregious attitudes to your needs, you'd be beaten down by the information signals of supply and demand. And don't forget, bound up in the cost of labour for employers are all the start-up costs, future forecasting and other concomitant risks that require business owners to be prudent.

It is not capitalism conspiring against the poor - it is the operation of markets tending towards parsimony in ensuring resources (goods, services and labour) are allocated most efficiently for the mutual benefit of buyer and seller. That's why in a more globalised economy Britain and America have lost the firm grip on some industries they used to hold pretty tightly.

Information signals tell us that it is no longer so efficient to manufacture those resources in this part of world (this is a natural selection-type filter that in economics is called Schumpeter's gale of creative destruction, after the economist Joseph Schumpeter) - to use the proper economic terms, we no longer have the absolute advantage or the comparative advantage.

If the poor are becoming better off by capitalism to the extent that inequality of capital actually drives progression rather than stifles it, it's alarmingly obvious that the attack on inequality is a case of choosing the wrong battle. Top economists would know better.

The Needless Battle Of The Sexes: How Identity Politics & Faux Victimhood Hinders Women

John Lewis made the headlines the other week by announcing they are going to make all their children’s clothes ‘gender neutral’. Many reacted with dissonance, probably fearful that John Lewis is pandering to the rising snowflakery in our society.

Sadly, these days it is quite easy to encounter a tantrum from a social justice warrior who thinks that racial associations are so rigid that you can't even host a continental fancy dress party without written permission from the local Lord Mayor, but gender is so fluid that some hairy-chested, bearded bloke called Kevin can put on a padded bra and high heels and shout "Call me Kathy' and suddenly she's a woman.

But many have reacted to John Lewis's move in a fairly phlegmatic way, stating that it doesn't really matter much, as people are still free to shop as they wish, and are quite capable of making their own decisions on the colour and style of the clothes they buy for their children.

Whichever side you're on, one thing is clear - our society did for a long time relentlessly reinforce the stereotype that young boys like wearing blue and playing with action men and tanks and little girls like wearing pink and playing with dolls and make-up kits. The common view has been that this is less to do with biological hard-wiring and more to do with the ways in which boys and girls are socialised at an early age, particularly as for a long time our past society has perpetuated the female-as-caregiver paradigm, and that this manifests itself very early through (among other things) the toys children are given.

It turns out, however, that in all likelihood the toy preferences of boys and girls are not primarily driven by socialisation, but by genes. This study shows that non-human primates show preferences for gender-typed toys similar to those seen in human children. That is to say, sex differences in toy preferences exhibited in non-human primates give strong indication that these are independent of the socio-cultural mechanisms first thought by many to be the primary influences on toy preferences.

That said, it still is the case that socialisation plays a significant part in human development, and that there are traits imposed upon children and young adults that are negatively brought to bear on them as adults. A good example is how girls are frequently discouraged from being direct for fear of being thought of negatively, whereas values such as assertiveness and competitiveness (which one often needs to get to high-powered positions in business) tend to be associated with masculinity, and are explicitly encouraged in young males (and may well have political ramifications in terms of women and men on the left-right spectrum).

Identity politics has always been a precarious thing, because the merits and demerits of intellectual and ideological propositions do not stand or fall on the sex, ethnicity or skin colour of the person making them. Currently the personal and the political regularly become entangled to the extent that many tend to conflate criticisms of their views with an attack on their personal identity - their biological, ethnic, sexual, religious self.

Intellectual challenges are (or should be) blind to things like sex and ethnicity, and as such, the responses should be too. We've seen too many people whose arguments have been challenged cry foul that the motive for the challenge has been their sex, skin colour or religion. Alas, the contemporary mindset for a significant proportion of the population is that political disagreement is taken as an assault on the entirety of their character and sometimes on their sex or ethnicity too.

This engenders a kind of paradoxical figure that becomes utterly supine when facing challenges to their worldview, but at the same time hostile and intolerant towards those that disagree with them, even going so far as wanting to censor or sometimes even decimate contra opinions and viewpoints.

The very real danger is that genuine threats of violence get lost in a wave of noise against people who've offended them on Twitter or who've held a public opinion they want to shut down. But it is very unwise to act this way: as I wrote a few years ago, affording people the liberty to speak freely is also of huge benefit to the individuals trying to rob people of that liberty:

"Whenever we hear a voice or read an opinion which is vastly different from our own, or the common opinion, not only should we give that person the right to express themselves, we actually deny ourselves the right to hear or read the expression if we choose to seek refuge in the false security of consensual opinion. Not only does the person in front of you wishing to speak have a right to be heard, it is also the right of everyone to listen; and every attempt to silence somebody makes the silencer a prisoner of their own actions because they deny themselves the right to hear something.  In other words, your own right to hear is as involved as the other person's is to have his or her view. The freedom of speech is incomplete unless it means freedom of speech for the person who thinks differently.  We may not agree with everything we hear, but we do ourselves an injustice if we fail to hear the dissenting voices." 

Similarly, with the emergent (and awfully named) Westminster sex dossier that's gathering pace at the moment (and ditto wider allegations in society), there is a pressing need for genuine cases of rape or sexual assault to not get lost in a barrage of witch-hunting from women who've merely been on the receiving end of inappropriate jokes, improper suggestions and tasteless banter and labelled it 'sexual harassment'.
Let's all work together in whatever way we can to expose sexual assault, bullying and tawdry abuses of power, and see that justice abounds. But let's also frame this in its proper context and speak out against blanket condemnations from extremist groups who want to believe that the whole of society is one gigantic, overwhelming, dangerous patriarchy where all women are subjugated under the thrall of male-dominated hegemony. Because if you're running with this narrative, you're not helping anyone, especially women.

People who present themselves lewdly and unsuitably can easily face the charge of being sad, immature, pathetic and of lacking urbanity if it helps - but unless there are better demarcation lines between serious sexual offences and ill-suited words, it is women who will suffer most by being categorised as feeble and overly-delicate by a small minority of feminist women who don't have their backs at all, but pretend they are speaking on their behalf. There was no better response to this than Julia Hartley-Brewer's response reprinted below: