Economists and Merkel’s migrants

Someone polled a number of prominent economists whether the influx of refugees into Germany beginning in 2015 will generate net economic benefits for German citizens over the succeeding decade.

About  half said yes, a little less than than half were unsure.  2% disagreed.

As of late 2017, the job status was as following:

~20% had any job.

~largely those were low-skilled jobs

Now you have to understand that Germany is a fairly plush welfare state,  one that spends a lot of money on its inhabitants. School, medical care, housing, the whole ball of wax.  In order to be a net contributor, you have to have a pretty high income.  Even higher, if we’re thinking of someone being a net contributor over a lifetime – you have to consider retirement and old-age costs.  The occasional gaudy acts of terrorism hardly help:  protection is costly.  Maybe it boosts GDP like an epidemic of broken windows?

Next, your typical Syrian or Afghani immigrant doesn’t speak German and doesn’t have a lot of human capital:  he isn’t a fresh graduate of a German technical high school. If typical of his home country, he has an IQ in the 80s. He  finds both beer and blood sausage abhorrent – fitting in is difficult.

The birth rates are  very low in Germany and the big companies would like more skilled labor. But after a year,  out of a million-some refugees, less than 100 got jobs in those big German companies.

So.. On this not-terribly-difficult, not-terribly rare kind of problem, economists are worse than useless.  I could put it more strongly !


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Japanese strategists

In World War II.  It’s not clear that there actually were any. This isn’t always mentioned in histories, but a lot of what Japan did in the Pacific made no sense at all.

For example, the Japanese occupied lots of islands. After their local naval and air forces had been defeated, we only needed a few of those islands for bases. We generally just let the Japanese forces on the islands we didn’t need sit there, usually till the end of the war. Some farmed and fished, some starved.

But island-hopping had important strategic fallout. There was only one way to send any supplies to places like Rabaul – submarines. Of course, they couldn’t carry enough cargo to make any difference – they sure couldn’t feed 100,000 men – but you gotta do something, right? This took most of the Japanese submarine fleet out of the war.



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Hollywood physics

In real life,  gasoline-powered cars don’t often explode. But in the movies. cars are always exploding. Although I’m still waiting for the scene in which three cars simultaneously fly off cliffs and collide in mid-air.  And explode.

In real life, bullets  don’t have much momentum. But in Hollywood, they can pick you up and slam you against the wall. Although the shooter isn’t flung back:  Dean Drive?

The question: how should Hollywood deal with the electric car?  Sure, lithium batteries can catch on fire, but the whole point is that we aren’t strictly limited by the laws of physics.  Wouldn’t it be better if crashed Teslas were covered with crawling electric discharges, electrocuting everyone in the car, then building up through multicolored lightning to complete vaporization?




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Blowing Smoke

After a long and difficult pregnancy, Nature Genetics  finally gave birth to a big paper about genetic influences  on educational achievement. Now we know more of the genes that result in high heritability of phenotypes like educational attainment – including something about the metabolic paths involved. These results don’t explain all the heritability we see – in particular the part due to rare deleterious variants – but they  explain some.  Now, from a gene sample, knowing nothing else, we can say something about some kid’s likelihood of completing college. People in the bottom quintile of the polygenic score had a 10% chance of graduating, those in the top quintile had a 55% chance. Obviously if we knew his grades, test scores,  permanent record and genotype, we could make an even better prediction: still, this is interesting.

As usual we have public intellectuals fulfilling their duties: trying to stuff falsehoods into  the heads of the general public.

Paige Harden has a piece in the New York Times.  She has a hard row to hoe:  she’s trying to convince her fellow ‘progressives’ that they need to recognize that genetic influences on personality and talent are real and strong.  She bullshits on some topics in order to reassure them:  mentions the awful idea that inferior genes explain poverty, and evil old eugenics. But of course genes do have a role in  inequality, while there’s nothing wrong with non-coercive eugenics, as long as you know what you’re doing.

She mentions that a number of leftists that have opposed this kind of biological research, for instance on education.  Which is fairly weird, really:  clearly those objecting believe that the theories they base their favorite programs on, and teach, are false. Which means their programs won’t, can’t achieve their stated goals –  but that’s apparently no reason to abandon them.  Means justify the ends ?

I can imagine someone opposing certain kinds of research because the results might be dangerous – say an easy way to make a total conversion bomb out of the green stuff in the back of the fridge, or  a complexly-wired helmet that confers the power of telepathic hypnosis, so that the wearer automatically becomes Supreme Ruler of Everybody, but I don’t think that’s what’s going on here.

Harden argues that genetic inequality is unfair,  and so -> redistribution.  The earlier argument was that everybody is really the same, and so ->  redistribution.  I’m pretty sure that if the astronomers found that an asteroid the size of Texas was going to hit us in twenty years, that answer to that would also be massive redistribution.  What does she says about the boring topic of making society actually work better – where well-understood genetic influences could have a role?  Nothing, of course.

Lastly, Harden says that a better understanding understanding of genetic influence will let us develop a better understanding  of which effects are genetic and which are not ( ” the causal effects of the environment are thrown into sharper focus”). So we can find the environmental interventions that work !

That, lady, is bullshit. Essentially every conceivable social intervention is like things parents do – shared family environment. And every decent study indicates that shared family environment doesn’t matter much. Now,  I suppose we could try to develop a new social program that mimics the effects of non-shared environment – which effects are significant – but we are handicapped by not knowing what the fuck those non-shared environmental influences even are.

Of course, If I were a professor of psychology, that would be a pleasing prospect.  ” More  research is needed” – until the end of time.


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More Theory

I’ve been pondering some of the points  Robert Plomin has made in Blueprint, and I find myself thinking about some things that he doesn’t say, but should have. All this in the context of a book that is generally sensible.

Imagine a certain kind of personality variation: some people are aggressive, some not. The aggressive guys tend to prevail over the  peaceful, but get in trouble from fighting each other when common: so you get an equilibrium, where both have the same average fitness.  Hawk-dove, a la George Price and Maynard Smith.  You might like or dislike hawks or doves, but you couldn’t say that either kind of personality was a disease ( A Darwinian disease, the only reasonably definition of disease).   Now if those traits were influenced by many genes, there would be continuous variation, but that can be a stable state too, an ESS.  Maybe some people would go too far, be too far out on the curve  of aggressiveness or  way too passive – say four sigma out – they might well have lower fitness, and maybe you could call that a disease – but it’s really just the far edge of a strategy.

Another case: tertiary syphilis, which used to be a common cause of mental illness, with whole wings of mental hospitals dedicated to it. Clearly a Darwinian disease.

Again: you find that having more mutational load, more deleterious mutations, increased your chance of schizophrenia, or autism, or low IQ: that strongly suggests schizophrenia, autism , and low IQ are not the far edge of some strategy. Note: people talking about shamans and schiz: you’re probably wrong.  Same for autism – not a strategy.

It is not so easy to for us to determine just how deleterious a mutation is by looking at the sequence, but natural selection gives a strong hint: if they’re bad, they’re rare. And,on the whole, if they’re rare, they’re bad.

Plomin notes that “there is an excess of rare mutations in individuals with schizophrenia, autism and intellectual disability”, and also says that “individuals of extremely high intelligence have fewer of these rare mutations”, suggesting that “rare mutations are not good for you.”

But we knew that before we looked: theory, population genetics,  says that deleterious variants will be rare. Selection happens. Now maybe Plomin is simplifying things for the average reader, but I get the nagging feeling that he doesn’t know much about evolutionary game theory,  mutational load,  mutation-selection balance, truncation selection.  I don’t think that most behavioral geneticists ever took any courses covering such things – or am I wrong?  Most started as psychologists, or so I’m told.

There are interesting results that make sense if (and only if) you’re thinking  in terms of mutational load:  intelligence is extremely polygenic, and if you have fewer bad mutations that influence IQ (true on average for people with high IQ) – you have fewer total bad mutations. Lower mutational load, which should result in better health and increased lifespan – and apparently does.

He also says “that the abnormal is normal, meaning that there are no qualitative disorders, just quantitative dimensions. The many DNA differences that are associated with what we call a disorder affect people throughout the distribution.”  I don’t think that’s the clearest way of looking at things: better to say that we all have some deleterious mutations, while some people have more than average. But there really is a qualitative difference between  what works and what doesn’t.








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Blueprint: How DNA Makes Us Who We Are

I’m going to review Robert Plomin’s  new book,  Blueprint: How DNA Makes Us Who We Are.  It’ll show up in Quillette . By the way, I should someday write a piece for them about how I am not a moderate left-winger who was eventually left behind by the Left getting ever crazier.  I would also not talk about how the New York Times used to be a great paper.  Was that when they called for McClellan to be made dictator, or when they informed Goddard of the “need to have something better than a vacuum against which to react against.” ?

Probably there will be a podcast. The GoFundMe link is here. You can also send money via Paypal (Use the donate button), or bitcoins to 1Jv4cu1wETM5Xs9unjKbDbCrRF2mrjWXr5.

In-kind donations, such as hefty lumps of ambergris and uncirculated 1909 S Vdb Wheat pennies,  are always appreciated.

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Last Survivor

It seems that although the Amerindians had dogs (after a while), those puppies did very poorly after Columbus.  Modern dog breeds have slim-to-no ancestry of this kind ( from comparisons with ancient dog DNA) . You have to suspect infectious disease. However, one descendant is still going strong:  it turns out that canine venereal sarcoma, the cell line infection or contagious cancer, originated in a North American dog: it’s closely related to those old Injun dogs and shows a bit of coyote introgression!

I had made a similar suggestion  a few years back: I said that there still might be living Neanderthals ( contagious ones, I was thinking ) and challenged some readers to guess how. After two years, none had, so I relented and gave them a hint: “What for you bury me in the cold, cold ground?”


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