Archive for the 'Books' Category

Beverly Hills As The USA

Imagine that you lived in Beverly Hills, among the richest people in the United States. Some of your friends were the kids of executives at Fortune 500 companies. Others were the kids of famous Doctors, Lawyers, and some were the kids of hedge fund managers. While all relatively rich, assume there was quite a range of wealth from really rich, to filthy rich.

Further assume, that one day, a bleeding heart liberal starts feeling bad for the really rich. Her complaints are along the lines of: “The really rich can’t eat out at the $500/plate restaurants, they have to settle for the $100/plate restaurants, or, god forbid, make sandwiches at home”. Her complaints continue: “The really rich can’t afford the Lamborghini’s or Ferrari’s, they have to get by with the – GASP! – BMW’s and Mercedes Benz’s”. Worst yet, “the really rich actually have to live in mansions with no ocean view, or golf courses”. Most heartbreaking of all, “the really rich have to actually prioritize their lifestyle and set a budget. They can’t go to Europe on a moments notice, they can’t eat out everyday”.

Now further assume that said bleeding heart liberal decided to set up an “alleviate suffering” fund that took away from the filthy rich to give to the really rich. Such a fund would help equalize Beverly Hills and “bring people together”. But instead of making this fund voluntary, the bleeding heart liberal wanted to enforce this through the city. She wanted to make it a city tax that merely takes from the filthy rich and gives to the really rich. Her arguments, again, are to “alleviate suffering”.

What would your reaction be if you were suddenly transplanted to that society and debate? Would you support the “Beverly Hills tax”? I am not one of those that believes there are absolutely no circumstances that justify forcibly taking the wages of one to give to another. But such circumstances have to be met with atleast reasonable justification. Yet simply moving money around amongst the worlds richest people does not seem to me like an acceptable justification.

Such is the image that comes to mind whenever I have a discussion with a liberal about increasing redistribution via taxes to help the USA “poor”.  It’s the image my dad and uncles, who immigrated to the United States in their twenties from ranch life in the poorest parts of Mexico, gave me. It is certainly how they viewed me and my cousins growing up – no matter what our circumstances, be it growing up in Compton (as I did), living off of the income of mechanics, gardeners, or window tinters – we were all blessed beyond their wildest dreams. Where they had to eat tortillas off the dirt floor, work in fields in the scorching heat where there were no “sick days” or “vacation time”, even the McDonalds cashier can seem privileged. And this view isn’t far from reality. Even the “poor” in the United States are among the richest in the world (see here and here).

Quote Of The Day

“Many progressives seem to think we can transform America into a vast college campus where food, shelter, and recreation are all provided for us and the only crime is to be mean to somebody else, particularly a minority.” — Arnold Kling, quoting a passage of Jonah Goldberg’s recent book Liberal Fascism while reviewing the book

Quote Of The Day

“In deciding on rules about combat integration, the ultimate question can’t be how to maximize women’s opportunities. Instead, it has to be how to maximize the military’s power to defeat the enemy. Clausewitz wrote that “everything in war is very simple, but the simplest thing is difficult.” Mixing the sexes together in an integrated combat force adds substantially to what he described as the “friction” of war. The combat environment is difficult enough; we do no one any favors by making it even more so.” — Kingsley Browne, author of Co-ed Combat: The New Evidence that Women Shouldn’t Fight the Nation’s Wars, concluding statements in his guest blogging at the Volokh Conspiracy blog on the question of Women In Combat

Quote Of The Day

” If we look at the history of Western civilization, we find that Christianity has illuminated the greatest achievements of the culture. Read the new atheist books and make a list of the institutions and values that Hitchens and Dawkins and the others cherish the most. They value the idea of the individual, and the right to dissent, and science as an autonomous enterprise, and representative democracy, and human rights, and equal rights for women and racial minorities, and the movement to end slavery, and compassion as a social virtue. But when you examine history you find that all of these values came into the world because of Christianity. If Christianity did not exist, these values would not exist in the form they do now. So there is indeed something great about Christianity, and the honest atheist should be willing to admit this.” –Dinesh D’Souza, author of What’s So Great About Christianity, writing about his recent debate with Christopher Hitchens, author of God Is Not Great

Quote Of The Day

“[Conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence] Thomas was talking about how surprisingly positively he has been received in campuses around the country over the past two decades. It is mostly the faculty, not the students or the public that are tough on him. Of course, there are some law schools he does not expect an invitation from. “About the only way I would get invited to Columbia is if I was a Middle East dictator with nuclear weapons.”” — Richard Miniter, writing about his Dinner With Clarence Thomas and Thomas’s new book, My Grandfather’s Son: A Memoir

Slavery In Context – Friday Edition

Do me a favor, read this and this from Michael Medved and when you are done read this blog post and tell me if their description of what Medved wrote is accurate.

After reading the two articles I responded in the comments section to correct what I saw as a false representation of what he had written. After all was said and done I simply asked them to tell me what Medved said that was in error? Which of his general points were wrong? A simple request, I thought.

Reenee, one of the co-bloggers of the blog responded with this:

My co-blogger’s post was not misleading nor was it myopic. It was her expressing her opinion.
This country does not get off the hook for introducing slavery merely because it was being done elsewhere on the planet. Nor does it get off the hook by “abolishing it quickly” after 240 years. You might want to expand your reading to other writers other than the glossed over tomes available to most schools.
After you’ve finished with those books, go here, pick out the first ten history books about the indigenous people and how they were treated, and then you’ll have a more well-rounded grasp on their history and what was done to them.
Everyone in this country ought to be baffled when faced with an argument that tries to mitigate or downplay or excuse the very bloody history of what our country did to people, either found here or imported, since it was founded.

That they aren’t, baffles me.

And, that’s all I have to say about that.

In other words, still no list of errors. Simply rebuts to arguments I did not make and a recommendation of what books I should read to be more ‘enlightened’.

I responded and then Leesee, whom I assume wrote the original post, responded with this:

His-Pan: That you would seek to defend Medved and ask for point by point disputation astonishes me.
Medved seeks to diminish the murder, the slavery, the genocide and the suffering, he gives a seemingly rational argument but I’m not buying it and it’s my choice not to buy it.
Frankly I’m a little sad you fell for his feel good take on these very sad episodes in our collective history.
Sometimes when you argue the fine points you miss the bigger picture, the fact is these things happened and putting them in so-called historical context does not diminish the crimes.
We as a gente cannot let anyone else define our reality or make less of our experience.
It’s your choice to buy into Medved’s cleaned up history lesson and I’m just not there.
Go on over to Crooks and Liars specifically Keith Olbermanns take on Medved, he called him the worst person in the world for “apologizing” for slavery, how is you don’t get that?

You notice a pattern here? Still no list of errors and more of the same caricatures.

This was a few days ago and so you can imagine how surprised I was to see the topic brought up again today, see here. I thought for sure this time there would be a list of errors, a real critique of what Medved wrote. Well, if you guessed not, you would have been correct. It is more of the same. More caricatures, attacks on the credentials of Medved, and references to incidental parts of his article, not a direct rebut of his main points.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t agree with everything Medved wrote. There are some points he makes that are stronger than others. There is wording he uses that I would not have used. There are some points he includes that I would not have. And of course, there are some exaggerations and misleading statements…but I do buy the overall heart of his article – specifically the points I commented on the original post (slavery was universal, it was primarily the west that abolished it, and the majority of Native Americans were killed by the unintentional transfer of diseases).

The reason I was asking for a critique is because he makes many of the same arguments that a book I am reading does, Thomas Sowell’s, Black Rednecks and White Liberals. Thomas Sowell backs up his claims with reputable sources, many of them respected historians. So when I saw the Medved post, and saw that he was making many of the same arguments, I thought this would be a good opportunity to see how one goes about critiquing Sowell’s arguments. However, the whole exchange left me with the impression that Sowell is more right than I initially gave him credit for (how else can you explain the irrational responses and refusal to deal with his central points?).

So if you have some time, read the two Medved articles, read the follow up posts by people who found the articles inaccurate, and if you find the refutations lacking and the topic interests you more I strongly recommend you read Thomas Sowells book, Black Rednecks And White Liberals, it gives more of the historical backing and larger context of some of the general points in Medved’s first article.

I want to close with a quote from a somewhat dated Thomas Sowell article:

Of all the tragic facts about the history of slavery, the most astonishing to an American today is that, although slavery was a worldwide institution for thousands of years, nowhere in the world was slavery a controversial issue prior to the 18th century.

People of every race and color were enslaved — and enslaved others. White people were still being bought and sold as slaves in the Ottoman Empire, decades after American blacks were freed.

Everyone hated the idea of being a slave but few had any qualms about enslaving others. Slavery was just not an issue, not even among intellectuals, much less among political leaders, until the 18th century — and then only in Western civilization.

Among those who turned against slavery in the 18th century were George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry and other American leaders. You could research all of 18th century Africa or Asia or the Middle East without finding any comparable rejection of slavery there.

But who is singled out for scathing criticism today? American leaders of the 18th century.

The full article should be read in full, see here. I’d post this response on the original blog post but then my two previous comments have already been blocked and on the last blog post there is a clear request not to.

Quote Of The Day

“Since the collapse of the Soviet empire, many defenders of socialism have argued that dictators, including Mao, Stalin, and Pol Pot, were aberrations; they took Marx’s ideas in the wrong direction. They claim that nationalization of the means of production (call it communism, socialism, or Marxism) and democracy can be compatible. In The Road to Serfdom, Hayek showed that it cannot. Some 50 years later, Hayek’s argument holds. Every socialist regime tends toward authoritarianism of some sort. Chavez reminds us of the anti-democratic nature of socialism. As such, he is turning into a major embarrassment for many on the Left who supported him. Unfortunately, what the proponents of socialism again and again fail to realize is that it is the message, not the messenger, that is embarrassing”. –Cato @ Liberty

Quote Of The Day

“I recently have started using the well-known book, The Skeptical Evironmentalist by Bjorn Lomborg…In the section on forests, Lomborg states that in the previous 50 years before publication (in 2001), contrary to the assertions of various people and organisations, the total area of land covered by woods and forests barely changed at all. He cites figures produced by the United Nations. When it comes, specifically, to tropical forests, he states that the best estimate is that the area covered by them decreased at a rate of 0.46 per cent a year in the previous 15 years. Again, he cites United Nations figures in his analysis”. –James Bartholomew, writing in the blog The Welfare State Were In

What Happens If A Company Pays Engineers The Same As Technicians

What would happen if an engineering company decided to pay engineers the same as they pay technicians? You would get technician level engineers, that’s what would happen.

The same is true with regard to our public education. Because of unions, our public education system pays science teachers the same as english teachers, and given that science majors are in great demand in the private sector, this has a downward push on able science teachers.

Naked Economics, a book I finished reading a few months ago, explains it this way:

Meanwhile, American public education operates a lot more like North Korea than Silicon Valley. I will not wade into the school voucher debate, but I will discuss one striking phenomenon related to incentives in education that I have written about for the The Economist. The pay of American teachers is not linked in any way to performance; teachers’ unions have consistently opposed any kind of merit pay. Instead, salaries in nearly every public school district in the country are determined by a rigid formula based on experience and years of schooling, factors that researchers have found to be generally unrelated to performance in the classroom. This uniform pay scale creates a set of incentives that economists refer to as adverse selection. Since the most talented teachers are also likely to be good at other professions, they have a strong incentive to leave education for jobs in which pay is more closely linked to productivity. For the least talented, the incentives are just the opposite.

The theory is interesting; the data are amazing. When test scores are used as a proxy for ability, the brightest individuals shun the teaching profession at every juncture. The brightest students are the least likely to choose education as a college major. Among students who do major in education, those with higher test scores are less likely to become teachers. And among individuals who enter teaching, those with the highest test scores are the most likely to leave the profession early. None of this proves that America’s teachers are being paid enough. Many of them are not, especially those gifted individuals who stay in the profession because they love it. But the general problem remains: Any system that pays all teachers the same provides a strong incentive for the most talented among them to look for work elsewhere. (Naked Economics, Pg 28-29)

So we shouldn’t be surprised at news like this:

Science education in U.S. elementary and middle schools is overly broad and superficial, according to a government report issued Thursday that also faults science curricula for assuming children are simplistic thinkers.

“All children have basic reasoning skills, personal knowledge of the natural world, and curiosity that teachers can build on to achieve proficiency in science,” said the report from the National Research Council, one of the National Academies….

The report also criticized teacher training, saying undergraduate courses required for teachers were not substantial enough and schools need to support their teachers in learning more about their subject.

“Any grown-up who can read can teach middle school general sciences,” said Mara Cohen, an eighth grade science teacher in New York who was certified to instruct chemistry but also teaches life and general sciences.

Last year Cohen, who was not associated with the report, said she taught pupils who spoke English as a second language, and that they often failed to understand lessons and did poorly on standardized state tests.

The report found her students were not alone.

While “all students regardless of background have the capabilities needed to engage with and be successful in science,” students from low-income areas and certain language and ethnic groups fall behind, it said.

In other words, you have english level science teachers.

Free Economic Education Videos (In Arabic Too!)

Development Bank Research Bulletin blog composes a list of “several classical TV series that you can watch in the evening when you have some free time”, classics like, Milton Friedman’s PBS TV series: Free to Choose (1980 and 1990 version) and PBS TV series: Commanding Height. All free, all educational, all economics.

Highly recommended for those interested in learning more about economics. The videos can be found here (Link via Newmarks Door). Arabic translations of some of the videos can be found here.

Update: The full PBS series, including the 1990 version is free for viewing here.

Quote Of The Day

“President Bush, like Ronald Reagan before him and innumerable others who are out of favor among liberals, has repeatedly been depicted as such a mental lightweight that he is not in the same league with brilliant guys like Al Gore and John Kerry. The fact is that George W. Bush and John Kerry both went to Yale, where Bush had a higher grade-point average. Bush also scored higher than Kerry on intelligence tests that both took in the military. Gore went to Harvard, where he finished in the bottom fifth of his class two years in a row. Grades and test scores are not everything. But they are something — and those who are convinced that their guys are way smarter have no hard facts at all to back up this widely and fervently believed notion. The cold fact is that anyone who spouts the liberal line is likely to be depicted as sophisticated, if not brilliant, and anyone who opposes it is likely to be considered dull, if not stupid, in the liberal media”. –Thomas Sowell, discussing a new book titled, “Conservative Comebacks to Liberal Lies” by Gregory Jackson, in which several liberal myths are debunked

Quote Of The Day

“Facts that go against preconceived notions are likely to be ignored, even by many scholars. For example, slavery is an issue that is widely discussed as if it were something peculiar to Africans enslaved by Europeans, instead of something suffered and inflicted around the world by people of every race, color, and religion. Two books about a million European slaves taken to North Africa have been published in recent years. That is more than the number of African slaves brought to America. The books are “Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters” by Robert Davis and “White Gold” by Giles Milton. Both books have been largely ignored by the media and academia alike. Apparently scholars, as well as journalists, have made up their minds and don’t want to be confused by the facts”. –Thomas Sowell, in an article titled, Are Facts Obsolete?

Quote Of The Day

“No simple cause explains why blacks are disproportionately poor relative to whites. My argument here is not that even a fraction of black poverty can be explained by history, but only to emphasize that expectations that black Americans can and should simply participate in our market capitalist and democratic institutions should they wish to prosper fail to understand the importance of culture. Until more of the black population currently living in poverty does participate there is little to be done to alleviate their plight; direct payments in the form of subsistence or other welfare programs have exacerbated the problem. But it seems unrealistic for whites to attribute the problem to irrational behavior by black Americans and expect an immediate change in their behavior”. –Mark Steckbeck, economics professor at Hillsdale College discussing a review of Winning The Race, a new book by John McWhorter

Quote Of The Day

“In education, on the other hand, a small, but growing, number of schools are proving the SchoolRef[ormer]s right: with high expectations, a rigorous curriculum, and dedicated teachers and principals, low-income black and Hispanic students can excel. Stephan and Abigail Thernstrom studied these schools and summed up their strategy as “no excuses“. Two examples are here and here.

Not coincidentally, many of these schools are charter schools, which have considerable freedom from government control. Joanne Jacobs’ new book profiles a charter school in San Jose, CA whose students, predominantly poor Mexican-Americans, are having amazing success. The KIPP schools across the country are great examples, as are the Watts Learning Center in Los Angeles (via Joanne) and the Thurgood Marshall Academy Public Charter High School in Southeast D.C.” — Katie of “A Constrained Vision”, blogging about, ” Poverty and school reform”

Ruben Navarrette On The Thernstroms

Frequent readers of my blog know that I am a big fan of the book, No Excuses : Closing the Racial Gap in Learning , by Stephan and Abigail Thernstrom. I have recommended it several times and continue to highly recommend it.

Well than, you can imagine my surprise, and delight!!!, to see Ruben Navarrette discuss them in his latest article. He writes:

Stephan and Abigail Thernstrom are nationally renowned conservative intellectuals, a husband-wife team with his-and-her doctorates, and both prolific writers and provocative thinkers.

The Thernstroms also happen to be two of my favorite people. That’s not something I could have said a couple of decades ago, when – because of their opposition to racial preferences and bilingual education – I might have considered them hostile to minority progress. Only later would I realize I had that backward, and that it was these sorts of programs – and others cooked up in the laboratory of liberalism – that kept minorities from progressing.

Abigail is vice chair of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission and a member of the Massachusetts State Board of Education. Stephan is a professor of U.S. history at Harvard University. They’ve written some important books, both independent of one another and together as part of a formidable team. Their collaborations include “America in Black and White: One Nation, Indivisible” and, more recently, “No Excuses: Closing the Racial Gap in Learning.”

They’re delightfully interesting folks. And one reason for that is they tackle thorny issues such as race and ethnicity without hesitation, fear or apology. It was Stephan Thernstrom – as one of my undergraduate professors – who first taught me that ethnicity and race relations were worthy fields of study, analysis and commentary.

The whole article is worth the read, and I also highly recommend you go get the book.

Economics Podcasts

Do you know of any good podcasts? Here are some economic podcast sites I’d recommend.

Radio Economics, a blog by Dr. James Reese an economics professor at the University of South Carolina. He interviews various economic bloggers. Interviews include nobel laureate Gary Becker and Richard Posner, of the Becker-Posner blog. There is also a recent one regarding “The Economics of Wal-Mart” with professor of economics Dr. Russell Roberts, made especially for you Wal-Mart haters out there.

Foundations For Economic Education, click on “Events”, and it will take you to various different podcasts. Some important ones include, “Human Betterment through Globalization” by nobel laureate Dr. Vernon Smith.

Ludwig Von Mises Study Guide, definitely the widest ranging and largest collection I have ever seen. They have almost any topic you could think of, and for those of you really new to economics, I would recommend their, Home Study Course here.