#Goolag

So Google decided to fire an employee who penned a memo titled “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber.”  The memo suggested that, while diversity was an important and shared goal, it may be a mistake to assume that all “gaps” — particularly gender gaps — are attributable to bias. The googler offered substantial scientific evidence to support the hypothesis that biological differences (and not bias) may explain much, if not most, of these gaps at the margins. The googler implored readers to treat people as individuals, rather than as members of groups, and to judge each person on their own merits. Finally, the googler suggested that Google had developed a stifled, partisan culture that ran contrary to the ideals of diversity and chilled the free exchange of ideas.

No shit.

According to Google’s CEO, Google fired the employee for allegedly violating the company’s code of conduct by “advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace.” Much of the MSM has described the pro-diversity memorandum as a sexist, anti-diversity screed.

(1) I don’t really have a view of the claims in the memo (but other credible sources seem to agree). Google doesn’t really either, since its criticism focused on the claim itself — or rather a twisted account of the claim — and not the evidence. That being said, Google’s decision to censure critical inquiry because it runs contrary to Progressive dogma is itself very bad science. It undermines the credibility of Google’s broader commitment to evidence-based reasoning and diminishes Google’s ability to make “but science says” arguments in the future.

[It certainly puts the lie to the whole “Obama partners with tech to reengineer government narrative.” If tech relies on data except when relying on data is politically inconvenient, it defeats the whole purpose of bringing data-based decision-making to government. Although, that’s what I would expect from the self-selected group of googlers who opted to go work for the administration.]

(2) Google’s decision to make it a fireable offense to openly believe that biological differences contribute to (if not explain) different gender roles and outcomes — a belief that I suspect is shared by more than half of Americans and wayyyy more than half of humanity — is a pretty big blow for liberalism. (The media’s overt misrepresentation of the substance and intent of the memorandum are pretty terrible too, but we already knew the MSM was a shrill partisan outfit.)

It doesn’t really surprise me that some people within Google are science-hating, intolerant, close-minded bigots. It also doesn’t surprise that such people might concentrate in cost-centers, like HR, which add significant value (legally) by enforcing pro-regime monoculture.

It does surprise me a little that Google’s CEO would take such a visible stand against diversity and critical inquiry. When the most powerful company in the world signals that it will fire you if, in its sole discretion, it determines that you have violated Progressive taboos, it will certainly not foster coexistence, tolerance, understanding or peace. It will similarly erode Google’s credibility to promote anything like coexistence, tolerance, understanding or peace, or demand anything like those values from anyone else. Tolerance is a two-way street. Tolerance for me, but not for thee will backfire.

To give a sense of the hypocrisy, imagine the following immigration compromise: exclude/deport anyone who believes that biological differences contribute to, explain and justify different gender roles and outcomes. The anti-immigration crowd would take that deal in a heartbeat. Progressives would howl about racism and islamophobia.

(3) I think companies should be allowed to discriminate to their hearts content. I also, think, however, that what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. If discrimination against the Progressive coalition is a cause of action, then other forms of discrimination must be actionable, as well. Google should be simultaneously liable for making a hostile work environment if it fires the employee (to non-Progressives) and if it does not (to Progressives). Just like firms should be forced to choose between discriminating against a trans for failing to accommodate his bathroom needs, or discriminating against women for allowing a male into the women’s locker room. Unfortunately, the absurdity will be embraced by lawyers, but hopefully it will also impose some discipline on this madness. Maybe not.

Before you shriek about false equivalencies and “historically” marginalized, oppressed, or powerless groups, it makes sense to consider at what point these “groups” are no longer “powerless.” When the most powerful company in the world fires people for disagreeing with you, you may have reached that point.

(4) Other than as a shareholder, I’m not really concerned that Google will slowly rot itself from the inside. There will be some social value lost, but I’m confident in the ingenuity and resourcefulness in humanity that some alternative will emerge to take Google’s place. [And by that point, the foot-stomping “break up Google” crowd will have moved on to some other “monopoly” that “can’t be stopped” without regulation, unlike the previously unstoppable monopolies, Google, Microsoft, Walmart, GM, AT&T, the cable companies, etc.]

(5) What does concern me, however, is that Google will use its considerable influence to advocate laws that will prevent ingenious and resourceful humans from taking its place. “If Google rots, we all rot!”

Google has already partnered with the ADL–led by the simpering lightweight Jonathan Greenblatt who will do anything to keep his place in the Progressive coalition–to combat “hate speech.” It would not surprise me at all if, at some point, Google, Facebook, and Twitter join together to offer the internet in humble sacrifice to their Progressive overlords. It’s already happening in Europe.

That is, after all, the political dynamic that drives much regulation:

Companies say, “we finally adopted these value-killing policies you’ve been nagging us about and now all of our customers are fleeing to these upstart competitors who are offering the exact same services you scolded us for! It’s not fair! Make them illegal!”

Regulators say, “That’s a great idea. We’ll regulate the bejeezus out of those ingenious and resourceful humans scofflaws.”

The press reports, “Government and industry agree that regulation is in the best interests of everyone! Stop questioning our authority. Everyone go home.”

It will be hard to close the internet when so many of the people who built the internet are wrong-think wierdos like the fired googler, but it won’t be pretty.

 

What do you call it when socialists and nationalists govern together?

In my last post (and elsewhere), I criticized Trump’s (self-appointed) ideological vanguard for their Lefty/statist orientation, i.e. government-as-mechanic that tightens a tariff here and raises a rate there and — voila — The Economy! I also warned that a one-party system, with the political battlefield reduced to an internecine struggle between two Lefty coalitions fighting over the means of production coercion, was really scary news for all the peace and freedom loving people stuck in between, i.e. liberals.

Recently, Arnold Kling wondered about the same thing: what does a compromise look like between these two lefty coalitions?

My first thought is national socialism. It needs another name, because of all the Hitler/holocaust baggage, but here is why it makes sense.

The nationalism would include immigration restrictions, protection of “culturally significant industry” (e.g., wine in France), and cultural pride. This would appeal to the anti-Bobos. The socialism part, which requires technocratic management of economic outcomes, would appeal to the Bobos.

To get to national socialism in the U.S., the left would have to give up its attachment to multiculturalism and the right would have to give up its attachment to free markets (which Alberto Mingardi says has happened). Right now, it is easier for me to imagine the latter than the former, but maybe if the left loses one more election that could change.

That sounds about right (and it’s always been strange that the National Socialist movement is widely accepted as the epitome of right wing politics, but that’s another thought for another day).

Again, ethnonationalist socialism is actually pretty common. Off the top of my head, most of the regimes in North Africa and the Middle East (except for Israel and the emirates) are basically fascist: militant, ethnocentric, nationalist and socialist. It’s an observation that typically gets dismissed because of all the “baggage” associated with the original national socialists, but I think that’s a diagnostic failure.

For many a good reason, our cultural memory of the Nazis (and Hitler) is that of frothing at the mouth madmen and true Bond villains. The problem with that caricature, however, is that we’ll never see the next Nazis coming (indeed, they’ve been here for a long time) because we’re expecting some ghoulish evil mastermind to emerge as their leader — i.e. Hitler as we’ve reimagined him. But that Hitler wasn’t real and those characters by and large do not exist outside of their parents’ basement.

More importantly, one doesn’t require evil intentions to perpetrate great evil — quite the contrary, it’s righteous intentions and a broadly inspiring message that are (and always have been, including with Hitler) the prerequisites for inflicting harm at an order of magnitude to be considered evil. Indeed, it’s pretty unlikely that people would willingly destroy the lives of others if they didn’t genuinely believe it was for “the greater good.” Sociopaths are by far the exception and not the norm.

I view this diagnostic failure as part of the good intentions fallacy. People generally think intentions are predictive of outcomes and therefore their policies and leaders are righteous and altruistic, while the other team’s are heartless and selfish. That’s a mistake.

Intentions are more or less the same across the political spectrum — everyone generally wants to help the unlucky and stop the bad guys. We impute bad intentions to people we disagree with because we have no other way to explain their disagreement (since how can people with the same intentions desire divergent policies if intentions are all that matter?!). We also create a robust market for outrage and character attacks to justify our inferences about the other team. Tell me whether the candidate is a baby killing Christ-hater / racist oppressor of women, so I know who to vote for.

What we don’t do is pay sufficient attention to incentives, which actually do vary a good deal and truly are predictive of outcomes. And when we focus exclusively on intentions and ignore incentives, we get fascists and their multicultural counterparts, i.e. communists. [For related reasons, I think there should be a Godwin’s Law for Godwin’s Law.]

If you want to call Trump a Nazi, go ahead, just make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons: i.e. he’s an advocate for a robust state apparatus to “reengineer” a more “just” nation. Y’know, just like the early progressives who, concurrently with the Nazis, empowered labor cartels (through commercial and immigration regulation) in order to “protect” the American “working class.” And just like the present-day progressives who want to do the same thing for the international proletariat “multicultural working class.”

When politics is reduced to national socialists fighting with the international socialists, bad stuff happens.

Whither the Oregon Trail

One of the self-inflicted wounds of anti-immigrant sentiment for the unfashionable working class (i.e. native working class) is the lowering in status of immigrant, or pioneer, narratives. Discussing his book, The Complacent Class, with Russ Roberts, Tyler Cowen describes the immigrant mentality (and its decline) as follows (h/t Kling for the transcription):

In a lot of the late 19th century it’s not even clear according to the numbers that our rate of productivity growth was always so high. Yet American society was not complacent. We had a frontier mentality, an immigrant mentality; we were very likely to move across state lines; we were willing to accept a lot of risk. And that in turn helped us later on, get the rate of productivity growth up higher. But I see today it’s a culture where younger people are more willing to keep on living with their parents, less interested in buying a car, more likely to aspire to being on Disability as a kind of future . . .

Cowen is obviously troubled by contemporary complacency and I agree with him.

Of course, one way to cultivate a more pioneering esprit de corps is to venerate the stories of pioneers: folks who leave discomfort behind to forge a new future in the great unknown, relying on hard work, perseverance, ingenuity and gumption. Some of the best contemporary (and historical) examples of this ethos are, of course, immigrants. However, to the extent immigrants become politically toxic (for reasons unrelated to the pioneering ethos) their stories become toxic, as well. In other words, no matter how much one might admire the rags-to-riches moxie of Yousef the grocer, it’s impossible to provide an account of Yousef’s journey without triggering outrage at “globalization” (and some of Yousef’s other defining features).

Now, neither anti-immigrant sentiment nor the native working class are solely to blame for the diminished stature of a pioneer mentality. What’s really problematic, I think, is that all the various iterations of the pioneer story have taken a beating from one political tribe or another. Call it, pioneering for me, but not for thee. The net result is very few pioneers to cheer for and that’s not good.

Let me explain.

The Blue Collar Frontier?

Consider the 20th century domestic working class pioneer. Nope. You can’t because there isn’t one. For years, the native working class (with the help of the Progressive elite) have relied on symbols and statistics like empty factories and fired workers to make it clear that pioneering is not an option. In this mythology, the greatest virtue is “saving” jobs — keeping the local widget factory open and protecting it from the evil corporate conglomerate.

Naturally, what is invariably missing from these dreary pictures of industrial ghost towns is an account of what happens to everyone when they leave. Heaven forbid a G.M. plant worker loses her job in Detroit for a better one in Toyota Tennessee. Perhaps one ghost town was replaced by an even better boom town in a neighboring state? The Progressive narrator never follows the working man to the end of his story (because the story is, after all, not about the working man, but about his Progressive champion).

For example, Tommy Boy is heroic for keeping his family-run, break pad factory both in the family and local — not for leading his employees, like Joseph Smith, Feivel the Mouse or Anne Hutchinson, to greener pastures. Quite the contrary, even suggesting as much makes one a villain and a traitor. Y’know, like scabs and private equity firms and other change agents. [Later, when the better, more urban and multicultural working class enters the picture, closed factories (which make no sense in coastal enclaves) are replaced by discrimination and “hostile” work environments as the salient evils (and the interventions shift accordingly).]

I don’t mean to trivialize the cost and the trauma of losing one’s job and having to move. It’s really not a great position to be in. That being said, it remains the case that sometimes it’s better to move than to stay. If, for example, housing becomes too expensive, people should move to cheaper neighborhoods. If jobs dry up because of innovation or other changed economics, people should seek out new opportunities elsewhere. If old skills become obsolete, people should endeavor to learn new ones. You’re fooling yourself if you think price controls make a thing less scarce. (They, in fact, do precisely the opposite).

If, however, you suggest that people ought to move if they lose their job or if their housing becomes too expensive, the cultural elite look at you like a heartless monster. Which is weird, because the same cultural elite pride themselves on their mobility and cosmopolitan flair, but I suppose the unwashed masses are too delicate to have new experiences or move to the suburbs.

To be fair, all of that dynamism is harder for the working class, but it’s partly their own fault. It’s what happens when policy makers put a premium on stasis, i.e. keeping one’s job (and staying in one place) above all else. It should be obvious, but if workers are harder to fire, then they become riskier to hire. Anti-discrimination law, disability law, and labor cartel protections (to name just a few interventions) all function to freeze workers in place, including unemployed workers. Likewise, policies like employer-based healthcare and union seniority rules put an even greater premium on the bird-in-hand (relative to the two in the bush). The same goes for rent-control and tenant “protections” — these are lock-in mechanisms that lock-in the haves and lock-out the have-nots. [Again, keeping future workers out of the workforce was the stated intention of the early Progressives; now their stated intention is to replace past workers.]

The point is that the working class pioneer story is culturally toast, done in jointly by the Progressive elite and the native working class (e.g. Unions! Roar!), and then later by the Progressive elite and the new and improved working class (e.g. Discrimination! Wah!). It never really existed in the first place and it’s not likely to start now because policies have made the tale of woe (e.g., losing one’s home/job) something of a self-fulfilled prophesy. Plus, the cultural elite is unlikely to revisit their narrative as “defenders” of the working class any time soon. Tinkerers, builders and homesteaders might have some cultural purchase, but by and large, pioneer inspiration won’t come from the working class.

Immigrants, Settlers and . . . Colonialists?

What about the immigrant pioneer story?

Well, as noted above, the native working class doesn’t care for it much at this point. In theory, the Progressive elite ought to be championing immigrant stories, but while they like immigrants, they don’t care much for pioneering, i.e. success by hard work, perseverance, ingenuity and gumption. If you think that stuff is important, you’re a racist. I’m not exaggerating. According to the Washington Post, you’re racist if you believe that “racial inequalities today are a result of . . . personal lack of effort and irresponsibility” as opposed to “social bias.” Similarly, according to university administrators, it’s a microagression to say that “everyone can succeed in this society, if they work hard enough.” Progressive immigrant stories are books like Americanah, which is actually about how terrible it is to be an immigrant — spoiler alert: the protagonists find happiness in their native Nigeria.

Neo-liberals, which I understand to be ideologically confused members of the governing class who really just want to be friends with both Team Hard Work (liberals) and Team Unfair (Progressives), used to have a version of the immigrant pioneer story, but they’ve taken a cultural and political hit lately and are being forced to choose sides. In the Age of Obama, they swooned for Progressives and they’re finding it hard to say “well, on second thought, maybe hard work is a virtue.”

What about the actual pioneers, like Davey Crockett, and Cowboys and Indians, and the Colonial Americans?

That still has some purchase in flyover country, but the Progressive elite really hate that stuff. Again, hard work and perseverance don’t mean shit because discrimination is everything. Everyone knows that the founding fathers, the pioneers and the greatest generation built their wealth on the backs of slaves, indigenous peoples and redlining. Progressives have worked really hard to rewrite America’s pioneer founding myth; or rather, delete it entirely, including its symbols and its heroes. It is rather more culturally chic to be ashamed of America’s founding than anything else. As the New York Review of Books notes:

Indeed, for decades now, much of the historiography of the founding has presented a complex story, exploring the many ways in which the Revolution, and the people who made it, fell far short of sharing with all people the Spirit of 1776’s indictment of tyranny and calls for liberty and equality.

As with immigrant virtue, on the founding myth front, Progressives were able to drag the Neo-liberals with them (because the long arch of history favors the governing class). In general, stories with white heroes (which describes the majority of American founding stories) are culturally verboten. And if you deign to tell a story about Fredrick Douglass, it better not be how he loved the 2nd Amendment. Same goes with Booker T. Washington and his whole “self reliance” and entrepreneurship thing.

Even modern day urban pioneers get the heel. They’re called gentrifiers and they’re bad for bringing growth to poorly developed areas (which is strange, because they were also bad for perpetrating “white flight” just a few decades ago). Like the native working class tale of woe, when it comes to gentrification, the only image we see are the people displaced and priced out of their homes and shops. Where do they go? No one knows or cares because the important thing is that no one should be allowed to leave or move or go anywhere or change anything! Native citizens have rights to freeze time (so their governing elite can rule in perpetuity)! (Unless you’re a white native citizen, in which case, go to hell, you xenophobic racist asshole.) And urban bourgeois have those same rights too, but y’know, this is really about the PoC!

What about in other parts of the West, like, Israel for example?

Like the U.S., pioneering has (or had) an important place in Israeli culture and the Israeli founding myth. Now, thanks to Progressive reeducation, “settlers” is an epithet and Israel’s founding myth is literally just a myth to cover up exploitation and cruelty. Israelis ought to be ashamed for interfering with the indigenous Arabs’ dream for a homogeneous ethno-religious patrimonial enclave. The start-up nation hangs on to its mythology ever so slightly, literally, with its start ups, but it won’t be long before those get the “capitalist exploitation” treatment from the people’s champs.

Stasis You Can Believe In

So what’s left? Not much.

The 20th century native working class never really had a pioneer story to lose.

Tech entrepreneurship still has some clout, but even the embittered urban bourgeoisie are starting to turn on tech as they realize it’s hard to become a billionaire. It’s easy, by contrast, to say tech bros are being mean to you and treated you so unfairly and isn’t Uber just the worst?! “Whistleblowing” is rapidly gaining more cultural purchase than actually building a company.

Immigration stood a chance insofar as it was the one pioneer story that the Progressive cultural elite could get behind, but now that’s ruined.

Similarly, the American founding myth, including the founding fathers, the greatest generation, and even the first wave 20th century European immigrants (e.g. Feivels) used to be relatively safe territory, but that’s no longer the case either. It’s gotten to the point where elevating the stature of hard work and perseverance is itself racist, regardless of who the hero happens to be.

Finding inspiration abroad isn’t possible because that fight is now just colonialists v. indigenous peoples. I mean, can you imagine if one were to suggest (as I do frequently) that the American native working class start setting up shop in North Africa, the Middle East or India (the way North Africans, Middle Easterners and Indians are encouraged to set up shop in the West)? Yes, the native working class talked themselves out of that years ago, but even if they tried, they would be run out of town and Progressives would cheer every step of the way. There is no high cultural dais for Westerners going East to find their fortune. Quite the contrary, that is extremely low status stuff that is left exclusively to oil companies and the Blackwaters of the world.

To my eyes, the pioneer story has lost nearly all of its cultural purchase, which means people are much less likely to be pioneers. That’s bad. Even worse, it’s been replaced by nativism for me, but not for thee. Nativism, unfortunately, isn’t particularly good for anyone.

 

 

Technocrats in Baseball

I really loved this Fangraphs interview with Dick Williams, the new General Manager of the Reds. [Side note: Fangraphs is the best specialty news site in the business. If only the real world had counting statistics as reliable as the ones in baseball.]

Williams is totally professional in his approach. He is systematic and thinks in terms of optimizing returns on investment and diminishing risk.

For small market teams, it’s not just about relative payroll:

 Attendance tends to drop off more quickly for small-market teams in a rebuild period and that can have a big effect on revenues. Bigger-market teams… usually have a higher and more solid attendance base, so they can sort of weather the down times a little better.

Risk tolerance is also different:

“A lot of times, when you come out of a rebuild, you’ll start with what you might call ‘go-for-it signings.’ Smaller-market teams have less leeway in terms of hitting or missing on one of those. It’s more painful on a relative basis for us to miss on a big-dollar contract.

Williams also takes a systematic approach to the organization, deferring to decentralized expertise to optimize spend and priorities. The key is reallocating payroll expenses (marginal costs) to organizational investments (fixed costs) for better returns to scale:

We met with each department head and effectively examined where we thought dollars would have a better return on investment than at the major league payroll level. Then we went back to ownership and said, ‘This is our next couple of years, this is what we’d like them to look like, and this is where we’d like to take money out of major-league payroll and put it to use in other areas.’

Not surprisingly, if you’re trying to get more bang for your buck on the finished product (i.e. major league talent), then you need to get in cheaply on the ground floor. That means shifting resources further down the human capital structure and finding competitive advantage where you can, like emerging markets:

The highest dollar amount was allocated to amateur-talent acquisition . . . It was by far — I think it was three times — our largest annual investment. We had a high first-round pick [second overall], we had our biggest draft pool, and the money we spent in the domestic draft was our most ever . . . Internationally, we also exceeded our pool. When you add up our bonuses and penalties in the domestic and international markets, we went further than we’d ever gone. Add all of that together, and you get the highest amateur talent expenditure we’ve had in any year.

Again, on emerging markets, where good local intel offers huge risk/reward:

For the first time, we have a Pacific Rim presence. We have a coordinator who is based on the west coast — he’s in Seattle — and we’ve added an area scout based in Asia. We’re looking to add one more . . . Now, with more players coming out, and the acquisition costs coming down — and the fact that there’s a secondary market for players — there are more opportunities for us. We want to have a lot more information on these players.

Distressed assets too:

We have a plan in place to expand our scouting in Latin America. Like everybody, we’re working on how to be reactive to the situations in Cuba and Venezuela, and what opportunities are going to presented in each. Both have been made difficult, but that could change.

Williams goes on to discuss other investments in lower level coaches, training facilities, medical staff and, of course, analytics. These are all ways to “beef[] up the bottom end of the pyramid” that will ultimately yield better results at the top-end, i.e. the major league roster.

Of course, a tiny plug for the benefits of a relative outsider with good analytic skills, but little domain expertise:

My first job in the game came when I was 35. My jobs before baseball were in investment banking, politics, and finance, so I kind of started fresh with no preconceived notions about how things should be done . . . You can’t build a baseball front office with all people who come from outside the sport, but having someone come in who is willing to challenge the status quo can be a positive. It can help free people up to think outside the box.

Anyway, read the interview. Here is my contribution:

What’s striking (to me) is how much investment bankers and technocrats have in common. They both have a vision for the organization that will optimize returns. Banker/technocrats think systematically and break their organization down into its constituent parts. The most successful banker/technocrats are skilled managers with deep networks.

Most importantly, banker/technocrats determine where to allocate capital, in what amounts and at what cost.

A major difference, of course, is that baseball is walk in the park compared to say, something as complex as THE HEALTHCARE. Baseball is chock full of reliable counting statistics and is backed by relatively stable cartel. Even multibillion dollar mergers are relatively straightforward when compared to POVERTY or TRADE.

Even then it’s still really hard. Executives are basically guessing — educated guesses — but guesses (or wagers) nonetheless. And no one would be foolish enough to guarantee success or *gasp* have a single executive control all the deals, when a single deal is hard enough.

And therein is the biggest difference between i-bankers and technocrats: when executives guess wrong, it’s relatively easy to tell and the consequences are relatively swift. Their team fails to win (or the deal goes south), they get fired. Sometimes it’s bad luck — again, baseball/finance is really hard — but winning is a clear benchmark.

Technocrats, by contrast, don’t even acknowledge that they’re guessing and — even if they admit they’re losing — they just blame the other teams for beating them. What makes the lack of honesty and accountability even worse is that technocrats are gambling with everyone’s health, wages, working conditions, security, etc. (and not just their own team’s).

It’s crazy, if you think about it. Society’s hardest problems are reserved for the firms with the least incentives to solve them. And their services are not take-it-or-leave-it — there is no opt-out, or voluntary participation. That’s not an accident, of course. If there were opt-outs — e.g. a regulated livery (taxis) v. its cheaper unregulated alternative (Uber) — people might realize that “public” services are not nearly as good as their “private” equivalent. That’s not a risk “public” technocrats are willing to take.