Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Posts Tagged ‘equality

Democracy failure in Germany

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Shortly after a recent democracy failure in Sweden, following a German precedent, Germany is trying to pull ahead again:

Apparently, the Bundesland (“state”) of Brandenburg has pushed through a highly ill-advised law that parties must present alternating* male and female candidates on their election lists ([1]).

*As I read the source. It is possible, but less likely, that a 50–50 overall was intended.

This is negative and anti-democratic for at least two reasons:

Firstly, it is an illicit form of discrimination based on sex, which does not consider factors like appropriateness for the position, number of willing and suitable candidates available, how many supporters a party has of each sex, etc. I note in particular the complication that more men than women appear to have the interest/ambition and dedication to pursue a political career. The result on the state parliament is that the quality of the elected will take a hit through the smaller pool from which half the candidates come.* The effect on men is that many who would have made strong** members will be left out; the effect on women that many too weak will be forced in by necessity. The effect on parties is that they cannot pick the candidates they consider suitable, worthy, or attractive-to-voters freely, and those male-dominated will be particularly poorly off. Indeed, a party that is sufficiently dominated by women*** might see similar troubles.

*Even discounting a likely difference in ability distributions.

**Relatively speaking and using the word somewhat loosely: These are politicians, and the proportion of great thinkers will likely be on the low side either which way.

***The Swedish Feminist party “Fi” might be a candidate.

Secondly, this demonstrates a complete failure to understand and respect how a representative democracy works: The elected are not intended to be chosen to reflect the demographics of the people—they are intended to be chosen by the people, in order to best represent the interests of the people. Not only is this law a violation of the principles involved, but it also leaves the people worse off—if the people wants more women elected, it should vote for more women. Similarly, if it prefers to vote for men, people of a certain age or a certain background, whatnot, it is up to the people to do so. Limiting the people’s right to chose through such mechanisms is anti-democratic.* Further, the consequences of such “demography thinking” can easily be seen to be absurd: If sex is a valid quota criterion, then why not age, educational background, profession, country of origin, sexual orientation …? What about the demographics of the party?** How can we justify excluding those below (e.g.) eighteen, if demography is an important criterion? Etc.

*It could be argued that the list systems used in e.g. Germany and Sweden are themselves problematic for similar reasons, and it might be a good idea to move to another system entirely.

**Many parties (especially in multi-party systems) have a heavy tilt in several demographic directions and often see themselves as representing a particular group of people—how is that compatible with being forced to find candidates that reflect a different demographic?

If “demography thinking” is to be considered at all, a completely different system is needed, e.g. one based on random choice instead of election. Consider e.g. a pool of candidates consisting of the entirety of the population, or a portion of the population satisfying certain criteria*, and a computer picking out the “elected” based purely on chance from this pool.

*Notable possibilities are “is above eighteen” and “is a citizen”, but criteria that include e.g. a certain level of demonstrated accomplishment are conceivable. Great care must be taken, however, seeing that such criteria could easily lead to skew (“must be an Aryan”, “must not belong to the bourgeoisie”, “must be dedicated to diversity”). Indeed, even something as innocuous as “must be willing” could be problematic. On the other hand, having no additional criteria would lead to parliaments even less qualified and more easily manipulated than today’s.

Looking more in detail at the source, there are several disturbing claims made:

Personen, die sich weder dem männlichen noch dem weiblichen Geschlecht zuordnen, können frei entscheiden, ob sie für die Männer- oder die Frauenliste kandidieren.

Translation: Persons, who do not identify as male or female, can chose freely whether to candidate for the men’s or women’s list.*

*This in reference to internal lists, prescribed by the law, that are used as a basis for the final list of candidates presented to the voters.

This allows manipulation by dishonest candidates, e.g. in that a man claims to identify as a woman in order to be let in with less competition, or that some group (e.g. members of a Feminist faction) claim to identify as members of the “opposite” sex to skew the list away from 50–50 proportions.

(Quoting or paraphrasing the chair of the Leftist extremist “Die Linke”, Katja Kipping.)

Mindestens jeder zweite Platz bei der Listenaufstellung für die Bundestagswahl müsse von einer Frau besetzt werden

Translation: At least every second position on the lists for the (federal) parliament election must belong to a woman.

This demonstrates the typical hypocrisy and poorly hidden agenda: If more that every second position belongs to a woman (and by implication less belongs to a man) this is apparently not a problem at all.

(Quoting Ulle Schauws of the usually Left-leaning and often, without hyperbole, out-of-touch-with-reality Green Party.)

Das neue Gesetz sei “ein erster Schritt, um gleiche Zugangschancen für Frauen in der Politik herzustellen”.

Translation: The new law is “a first step towards equal opportunity for women in politics”.

Women already bloody well have equal opportunity in politics—by law. Furthermore, they have had so for a long time. Indeed, since more than half the voters are women, it would have been no problem for underrepresented women to turn things around, had they been blocked internally in some parties: Just vote for another party or found a new party. If too much of the female vote goes missing, any such recalcitrant party would be forced to adapt. The truth is that we have a long history of fewer qualified women being sufficiently interested and dedicated—if you want more women in politics, Frau Schauw, change that!

(Quoting Katerina Barley, member of the social-democrat SPD and current (federal) minister of justice.)

“Unser Ziel muss eine Reform des Wahlrechts* sein, die eine gerechte Beteiligung beider Geschlechter im Parlament unterstützt”

*Here and elsewhere, I translate with “election law”. It is possible that some other phrasing, e.g. “election legislation”, would be more accurate.

Translation: “Our goal must be a reform of the election law that supports a fair participation of both sexes in parliament”

The same as above applies, with an additional pointer to previous comments on representative democracy.

(Quoting Franziska Giffey, also a member of the social-democrat SPD and the current (federal) family minister.)

Auch [sie] plädierte dafür, […] Frauen verstärkt anzusprechen und für politische Beteiligung zu gewinnen. “Das Wahlrecht kann dabei ein wichtiger Hebel sein”

Translation: [She], too, pleaded* […]** that women be more strongly addressed and won for political participation. “Election law can be an important lever for this purpose”

*The English word might be stronger than its German cognate (“plädierte”).

**The deleted portion has only a marginal effect on meaning, but is hard to translate in context and consists of unnecessary political verbiage.

Unlike the preceding, Frau Giffey appears to have an eye on the ball—lack of female participation. However, this type of law is not suited to achieve an increase, and I doubt that there is any other law that would be suited. There can be a positive effect through women realizing that they would get a leg up compared to men,* should they participate, which might actually move some of them to do so. However, this comes as a cost to everyone else (cf. above) and I would view it as an abuse of law-making. If official measures are at all needed and/or justifiable,** better such would simply encourage women to participate, e.g. through pointing to how non-participation increases the risk of, in some sense, “too few” women being elected.

*Or on the outside, through some women who used to (incorrectly) believe that they were disadvantaged now (and now incorrectly) believing in a fair playing field.

**Which I doubt: It is not the government’s decision what people do with their lives.

Notably, no-one who disagreed was quoted, no man was quoted, and no-one not on the Left was quoted, which raises the suspicion of partiality and poor journalism on behalf of the source. It does, however, note that two parties (CDU, AfD) voted against the law and consider it unconstitutional.

Oh, and by the way: The German Chancellor (highest elected politician) for the past thirteen years has been Angela Merkel—a woman. The current cabinet appears to contain 9 men and 7 women (including the Chancellor), according to Wikipedia on Merkel IV. Those poor powerless women…

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Written by michaeleriksson

February 1, 2019 at 8:14 pm

A few thoughts on role-models

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Disclaimer: The below borders on free association, even by my standards.

In a recent text on math and “college material”, I mentioned the Feminist fallacy of demanding specifically female role-models for young women in various fields, especially the STEM ones—is it not better to pick someone worthy of admiration, while ignoring sex?

Since then, I have spent some time thinking on role-models*, both with regard e.g. to Feminist calls for 50–50 representation of the sexes in math books and to my own experiences:

*Used in an approximate sense on two counts: Firstly, I have mostly seen such calls in Sweden (“förebild”) and Germany (“Vorbild”), and I am not certain what the ideal translation in context is. Secondly, the words in all three languages are unnecessarily strong and imply more than is warranted in context. (This, however, is not unusual with everyday use of these words.)

Let us start with a question: If sex requires such special treatment, why then not e.g. height and hair color?

In a Feminist world-view, which almost invariable denies significant inborn differences between the sexes, these three criteria make comparably little sense.

On the other hand, for those of us who believe that there are inborn differences, e.g. that men tend to be naturally more interested in STEM topics or that they tend to dominate the high (and low) extreme of I.Q., there might be some justification—that young women see that there actually are opportunities for women, should they have the interest, the ability, and the dedication needed. In this manner, the role-models could serve as a counter-weight to the other young women in their circles who show no sign of interest or ability; the female relatives who have trouble telling the difference between Internet Explorer, Google, and the Web; etc.*

*Note that if the feminist world view was correct, such a counter-weight would not be needed, implying that this argument does not apply in their case.

However, here specific examples of (true or faked) great women in the STEM fields give the wrong impression and group statistics would be much more helpful, e.g. what (true) percentage of professionals in a certain field are women. This way, a more correct impression is created and better choices can be made than if e.g. a math text book is arbitrarily filled with 50 % male and 50 % female mathematicians.* Women should know that there are opportunities (subject to the aforementioned constraints) and that they are not carbon copies of other women, but not be led to believe that the field is naturally 50–50, and certainly not led to believe that anyone who has a degree in X is actually good at X**.

*Even such problems aside as smart young women seeing that the women are included on lesser merits or being aware of the debate (bright young women have been known to read the news papers…) that led to the 50–50 proportions—either would not only defeat the purpose, but could actually back-fire though the impression that women are only included through “affirmative action”, never through actually being worthy. More generally, many Feminist, PC, Leftist, whatnot groups appear to be working under the assumption that people are so stupid that they must be manipulated into having the “right” opinion; however, whatever might or might not hold in the overall population, people lacking in intelligence and the ability to think for themselves have no place in e.g. math. Simply put: Someone susceptible to or “benefiting” from such manipulation is unlikely to be a good candidate for the STEM fields in the first place…

**Another common fallacy—and a much worse one at that: A degree is worth little more than the paper it is printed on, should the the right understanding, the right abilities, or the right brain be absent. More often than not, at least with today’s graduates, they are absent… (And, yes, that applies to the men too.)

More: Too much discussion of e.g. top mathematicians can create a very wrong impression and lead to great disappointments, faulty expectations, or undue pressure for members of either sex.* The simple truth is that the likes of Leibniz, Newton, Gödel, or (to pick the likely strongest female candidate) Noether are very rare birds. The chances are overwhelming that no-one, male or female, in this AP math class, this Calculus 101, or this graduate course on Riemann geometry will be comparable to Leibniz et al. Such perceptions of standards was one** of the reasons why I, myself, did not pursue math/academics beyond the master level—I saw what these rare birds had accomplished, measured success against them, and feared that I would fail to make a truly noteworthy contribution, e.g. founding a new field, solving one of the major open problems, or finding a theorem of fundamental importance.*** Today, I realize that even a more modest (and realistic) career as a metaphorical made-the-NFL-but-not-the-Hall-of-Fame mathematician would have been an accomplishment to be proud of.

*But likely especially for women, who are often exposed to a simplistic message of great success being inevitable (at least, unless the “Patriarchy” interferes), despite such success being a rarity and requiring at least one, more often two, and even more often three out of great ability, hard work, and luck.

**Others include my time as an exchange student and a wish to remain in Germany afterwards, a wish to make a bit of money, and having become over-satiated with math the first few years of college: I am not telling a sob story about how someone would have been an NFL Hall-of-Famer, had it not been for that knee injury the last year of high school—I merely caution that we should avoid knee injuries…

***In high school and the first one or two years of college, I did well enough that such aspirations originally seemed plausible to me. A little more detail is present in some sections of an older text on issues relating to education ([1]).

Excursion on other issues:
In a more complete analysis of the calls for female role-models (this text is more geared at the issue of impressions caused by role-models vs. reality) other arguments can be relevant, including the inherent unfairness towards the people featured in math books (deserving men “quota-ed” out; undeserving women “quota-ed” in) and the myth of sex being irrelevant gaining a greater foothold in the overall population.

Excursion on differences:
A common problem in discussions like these is misrepresentation or, conceivably, misunderstanding of opinion by e.g. Feminists, notably in the form of statements about groups being distorted to exceptionless statements about individuals. (The equivalent of “every single man is taller than every single woman”.) Here I stress the importance of understanding the difference between the individual and the group, individual and group characteristics, and individual and group outcomes. This especially when areas with a high selectivity, including elites, is concerned. Cf. e.g. parts of [2] (search for/scroll to “Thoughts on comparisons and the effects of variation:”).

Excursion on fear of failure:
One of the negative things ingrained in me through school was a fear of failure, sometimes even a fear of not being perfect*, that I have only overcome through time. This fear of failure was not an obstacle** as long as I succeeded with ease, but when things got tougher it could be a problem. During my college years, my “brute force” approach (cf. [1]) eventually brought me a few unnecessary failures, I learned that I had limits, and I caught enough of the history of math to understand that the best-of-the-best had often already made major contributions*** at my age. To some degree, I fell victim to a “if I do not try, I cannot fail” thinking. (But, again, this was only one of the reasons for my not pursuing a math career.)

*Not to be confused with a tendency towards perfectionism, although there might be some causal overlap.

**But it did lead to e.g. some cases of undue test anxiety and the odd nightmare in the extended why-was-I-not-told-that-we-have-a-test-today family. On the positive side, I have never had a I-forgot-to-put-on-my-pants-before-going-to-school nightmare.

***In all fairness, they had often been helped by having less mandatory schooling, giving them more time for an actual education and for their own thinking.

Interestingly, this type of thinking is one those sometimes alleged special problems of strong female students, especially when society is too be blamed for women’s problems—and, as usual, this “female” aspect is flawed. It might or might not be more common among female students (group differences again), but in reality, it appears to be a reasonably common problem among strong students (strong performers generally?) of either sex. A notable “named” example of a similar type is the “impostor syndrome”, originally alleged as a problem of accomplished women, but which has less to do with being a woman and more to do with being accomplished.

Written by michaeleriksson

November 5, 2018 at 3:52 pm

Thoughts around social class: Addendum Part I

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Re-reading Thoughts around social class: Part I, I notice two (or three) points that benefit from expansion:

Firstly, I discussed socio-economic status just in terms of income and education, forgetting that profession/job/whatnot is normally a separate third leg.* I suspect that this third leg is not that important to my discussion, having less practical potential effects and, indeed, being more a matter of status for most people (after adjusting for income and education as separate factors). However, for the sake of completeness, this third leg goes the same way as the other two in my anecdotal examples: Contrasting me and my sister, I worked in various qualified positions in software development, including several variations of developer** (often as “senior”), architect, business analyst, and consultant, while she has spent a significant part of her life unemployed and (if I understood my step-father correctly) has finally found work as a personal-care assistant—with the same parents, we differ considerably on all three legs. My father’s mother was a nurse***, while my mother’s mother was some type of hospital orderly, which puts them in the approximate same area of work, but at different levels of competence, of status, and in the hierarchy; my father’s father was a teacher**** and even substitute principal, while my mother’s father was an ambulance driver*****—with parents differing on all three legs, my parents landed on roughly the same level.

*Which is not to say that these three legs are necessarily a universal definition. The concept is inherently ambiguous.

**There is a lot of title confusion in the world of IT, so take the title with a grain of salt. For instance, I once, switching employers, went from being a “software engineer” to being a “software developer”, with virtually no change in my actual work.

***Due to the difference in country and time, I am uncertain how her role compared in detail to that of a modern nurse with a certain qualification, e.g. a U.S. “registered nurse”. However, she had the title (“sjuksköterska”) and the formal education of the day to go with it. Also: Bear in mind that the career paths available to women of her (born 1914) generation were more restricted than today, implying that being a nurse was close to the ceiling for a woman in medicine. (Whereas a nurse of either sex, today, is implicitly someone short of being a physician.)

****Here too, the profession was more prestigious than today, albeit for other reasons than with women and nursing.

*****Had he been working today, he would probably have been qualified and classified as some type of EMT; however, in my understanding, these roles were not very developed at the time and the actual “loading” of patients and driving of the ambulance were the core tasks. It should be added, however, that he was active both with the Salvation Army and some type of union work (I am unaware of the details), appears to have been highly regarded in both roles, and might have scored well on a “fourth leg”.

Secondly, in my excursion on children, I discuss the degree of assistance that is appropriate. The topic of education is not relevant to that discussion; however, without mentioning education, the text is potentially misleading: An important overall theme is a reasonable degree of equality of opportunity and a high degree of social mobility. A wide availability of reasonably priced and reasonably high-quality education is vital to this—anyone with the right brain* should be able to get whatever level of education he desires. This could require additional measures, e.g. free or cheap state** schools of various kind, subsidized student loans, encouragement of scholarships, and similar.***

*This is an important restriction: Common ideas like that everyone needs more education, that anyone with the right degree can do the job well, that it is college that creates the great mind, whatnot are highly misguided. It would be in the best interest of both society and the individual to reduce the college-going proportion of the population, restore the quality of the education, and make a diploma the type of proof of ability that it should be. Similarly, chances are that e.g. the “no child left behind” attitude has done more harm than good to the overall school system, trying to force an impossible improvement on the untalented and reducing opportunities for the talented in the process.

**Private institutions must be allowed to set their own prices and admission criteria. This will cause some remaining inequality of opportunity, e.g. in that the rich can afford to pay for Harvard and the poor cannot. Still, this is far less negative than a situation in which only the rich can afford college at all. (And must be put in relation to the rights of the private colleges and the people behind it.) Further, without the right brain, money is not enough. (Of course, a high-reputation college that admits and graduates students mostly based on money is not inconceivable—but how long would its reputation remain high?)

***Assuming that we work within something resembling the current system. I am very open to changes, and like to note that education already is available at a low cost even in the U.S.—the diploma is the expensive part… Some restriction on type of education might be sensible, e.g. in that studies for professional qualification are subsidized, whereas other studies are not, seeing that the former (a) are more important for equality of opportunity, (b) bring more value to society; while the latter is more of a personal satisfaction/development/whatnot issue. The latter does not require a diploma and can be taken care of outside of college. Indeed, my own “extra-mural” studies would easily cover a (sufficiently tailored) B.A. in “liberal arts”/“general studies”. (However, more detailed thought on the restrictions might be necessary, both with an eye on those who target an academic career and the difficulty of judging what education has what benefit. For instance, I have heard claimed that English is a better major than journalism for those who want to be journalists, despite the difference in professional orientation.)

Thirdly, parenthetically, a more explicit comparison between my parents might be beneficial. However, due to the great differences in choices and developments, going beyond “roughly the same level” is tricky. The one is an orange and the other an apple—but neither one is a grape or a melon.

Excursion on the changing status of professions:
Re-reading the early footnotes, I am struck with the change of status of professions (over-lapping with one sub-topic I intend to include later). My aforementioned move from “software engineer” to “software developer” is coincidental in this regard, but it does illustrate an on-going devaluation of software development: With the great need for developers, too many incompetents have been let in, and the idea of a software engineer seems to have gone down the drain, be it with regard to status, qualifications, or approach. Following current trends, I would not be surprised to see the profession move to a similarly low status position as teaching within one or two decades—this especially as teaching still tends to be a regulated profession, while software development is not. (The other way around would have been better…)

Remark on the rest of this series:
I suspect that there will be some delay with the remaining parts, because I have problems finding a reasonable structure for what I want to say—to the point that I cannot even tell whether there will be two, three, or four parts in all…

Written by michaeleriksson

October 23, 2018 at 5:14 am

The 2018 Nobel Prizes: Women and the Nobel Prize

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Time for the yearly Nobel-Prize update:

Unlike 2017, women did reasonable well, with participiations in three out of five categories and putting up a total of three laureates out of twelve.* This even included a share in the Physics Prize—for only the third time, after 1903 and 1963.

*Including the Economy Prize. The Literature Prize is moot (cf. below).

The Literature Prize was not awarded (so far?) for 2018, due to an extremely chaotic situation within the awarding “Swedish Academy”. The situation is worthy of a longer text of its own; however, the information that has reached me through the press over months has been confusing, incomplete, and often looked like a game of mutual blame, which makes me unwilling/unable to write said text.

With this chaos on top of my previous criticism of both the Literature and Peace Prizes, and factoring in their very different character, I will probably ignore both of them in any future updates—I can no longer take either seriously. (And to the degree that they can be taken seriously, they are not that relevant to the original context of my interest.)

Written by michaeleriksson

October 11, 2018 at 2:19 pm

Thoughts around social class: Part I

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Preamble: Recently, I have contemplated differences in outcome and the changes to the lives of different “classes” over time. The below is the first of several texts on related topics.

Once, as a child, I saw a pedagogical demonstration on TV: Of a large group of children, half were put at a table with good food, half on the floor with bread and water. After a few minutes, the second group was also brought to the table and a short speech was given on how this illustrated the need for “social justice” (or something of the kind—this was a long time ago).

The idea is obvious: The children should see that it is unfair that wealth and whatnot is distributed by a one-time random event, and be brought to conclude that wealth should be distributed equally within and between societies.

This repeats a common flaw in Leftist thinking of assuming an either–or situation: Either we have equality of outcome or we have outcomes decided by the circumstances of our birth (e.g. as children of nobility or peasants, Swedes or Ugandans). Indeed, I have since seen similar scenarios posed to adults, with the same flawed either–or: If your own status in life is random, would you rather live in a society where money is unequally divided between the rich and the poor or in one where money is distributed equally?

Even as a child, I was turned off by this demonstration and this either–or thinking: What if someone is simply more successful than someone else? What if someone is smarter, works harder, takes greater risks*, prioritizes material success higher, …?** Differences in outcome do not automatically imply differences in opportunity, that our fate is determined by who our parents were, or other reasons similar to those implied by the random division of the children into a “table group” and a “floor group”. By all means, where inequality of opportunity exists, remedies might be needed—but why throw the baby out with the bath-water? Indeed, even approximate equality of outcome is only possible by grossly violating one or both of equality of opportunity and personal freedom.

*Risk-takers do not necessarily fair better in life on average; however, the chance of finding them among the unusually successful (and the unusually unsuccessful) is increased. Notably, such effects are not limited to e.g. gambling, speculation, or even investments and founding businesses—they also include who asks for a higher salary at the risk of not getting the job, who holds out for a better employment offer, who trades unpaid over-time for a better shot at a promotion, …

**To which might be added some negatives, e.g. a greater willingness to break the law. I have no objections to suppression of such factors and/or the differences in outcome caused by them.

Exactly this type of baby mistreatment is very common in Leftist thinking and some parts of the Western world, however. For instance, if I work an additional hour, the German state earns more additional money than I do, after all direct and indirect taxes are considered. Some of this money is then spent in a sensible manner, some is wasted on government bureaucracy or otherwise abused—and a significant portion is given to other people in the form of direct or indirect transfer payments. And, no, this is not just payments intended to help those in temporary need to get back on their feet*—it also includes massive systematic attempts at redistribution of wealth.

*To which I have no objection: There is no shame in being temporarily in need of help. (I have been myself, as was my mother as a single, unemployed parent.) Not getting back on one’s feet over time, that is a different matter—as is e.g., without a temporary crisis, (a) living a life permanently based on government help, (b) fattening one’s pockets with unneeded government money, and, at the extreme end, (c) well-fare parasitism. (The (b) case is quite common in Germany, where politicians often try to use money to govern life-choices, e.g. in that married couples are taxed in a more favorable manner than singles—even when the married couples would have lived well without such favoritism.)

**In Sweden’s past this was sometimes extremely blatant. For instance, my first major push towards political interest, likely in the mid or late 1980s, came from a news piece on Swedish taxes: The post-taxes income of a high and a low earner were compared, showing a much smaller difference than before taxes. I was puzzled and dissatisfied by this. An equally dissatisfied reporter then criticized the situation—because the difference were still too large for his taste.

The typical fiction of the Leftist world-view is that these people are in a worse position than others for reasons that they cannot help—they are the victims of circumstance, most notably having had too poor parents, which prevented them from getting the right education and opportunities. Looking at countries like Sweden and Germany, this is only rarely the case.* The main determinants of success (or lack thereof) in life lie with the individual, how intelligent, ambitious, hard-working, …, he is and what decisions he has made in life—and most of these people are where they are because they did not use their opportunities. (As opposed to not having had sufficient opportunities.) Every once in a while, someone has a genuine piece of bad luck,** and these should be given proper concern, but own actions is the much more common explanation.

*The situation in other countries, and in the aforementioned countries in the past, might be different. However, in Western countries, including the much more “economically diverse” U.S., own abilities and efforts are more important than e.g. what socio-economic group the parents belonged to.

**Consider e.g. a recent colleague of mine: Intelligent, educated, hard-working, and presumably earning well (I am not privy to the details). His wife developed severe, unexpected, and long-term health-issues that (a) racked up medical bills beyond insurance coverage, (b) prevented her from working, (c) forced him to take time off to take care of her and the children. This is a type of situation where a government intervention would be easy to justify. (Whether one took place, I do not know.)

Did someone prefer partying to studying? Take every second Monday off to extend the weekend? Have children while unemployed or on minimum wage? If someone makes decisions with no eye on the future, behaves unprofessionally, follows the “pleasure principle”, … it is his business—but he has to live with the consequences.

Did someone study English instead of Medicine? Go into academics instead of the private sector? There is more to life than wealth, and I can greatly sympathize with the choice—but the trade-off, less money, is his responsibility.

Did someone start a business that ultimately failed? Taking risks for a shot at greater success is perfectly legitimate—but if the dice come up the wrong way, the failure is his to bear.

Did someone lack the brains to get through college? The manual skills to learn carpentry? The writing skills to succeed as an author? We are what we are—but we cannot blame others for such problems, nor demand that they pay for an unearned improvement of our standard of living.

My own family provides several interesting illustrations. Consider the socio-economic status of the parents and its purported effect on the children: I and my sister (unsurprisingly) have the same parents,* yet I am extremely well-educated and have supported myself for almost all of my post-college days, while my sister is a high-school drop-out and spent most of her life supported by my mother. My parents ended up at comparable levels of success in life, yet my father had two formally educated and intellectually interested parents with (to the degree that I can judge it) an above-average family income, while my mother’s mother had six years of school and was definitely below average in IQ, my mother’s father lacked higher formal** education, and the family income likely was below average. Of course, I did considerably better than many others with a similar childhood (cf. below)—at least until my early teens, I was one of those that the Swedish Left considers so disadvantaged that a failure in life is society’s fault…

*Looking deeper, she (as the younger) likely had a small net-advantage in socio-economic status, through a higher average income and education level during our respective childhoods, but might have had disadvantages in other areas, e.g. time spent with our father post-divorce.

**From what I have heard and seen after the fact (he died when I was six or seven), I suspect that he was quite intelligent and reasonably well-read outside of formal education—someone who would have done well in college, had he gone. However, typical measures of socio-economic status, especially in the context of the-world-would-be-much-better-if-everyone-went-to-college propaganda, only consider formal education. (How many years of school he had, I do not know.)

Or consider long-term handling of a temporary crisis: Post-divorce, both my parents (my mother with two troublesome children) did their best to find new* jobs, both eventually went to college, and both ultimately built a good life. Especially my mother, had she had less drive and intelligence, could have gone down the path of the perennially unemployed well-fare seekers. She did not. Neither was she satisfied with temping or dead-end/entry-level jobs, like so many others in her situation, but she actually rose to education and a middle-class income.

*They were officers of the Salvation Army prior to the divorce, and staying on was problematic.

Then again, it can be argued that my parents made disputable* choices prior to the divorce, and could have done a lot better* with other choices. As officers in the Salvation Army, they earned very poorly compared to the average, received no education truly useful outside the Salvation Army, and having two children (even absent a divorce) might have been on the optimistic side. If they had skipped the Salvation Army, they could have taken steps in their lives at twenty that they only actually took when around thirty.

*In terms of material and whatnot success: The general career choice was obviously dictated by other reasons, and cannot be compared to someone who has a poor career e.g. through lack of brains or willingness to work hard. Even as things played out, it is conceivable that they considered the time in the Salvation Army a worthwhile investment. (I certainly do—owing my existence to these choices, the Salvation Army included.)

Excursion on the anecdotal:
Much of the above is obviously anecdotal, special cases that could underlie a lot of chance, whatnot. However, (a) it is born out by what I have seen among others, (b) it is similar to findings in e.g. twin studies and psychometrics, and (c) the “evidence” provided by the Left that e.g. socio-economic status of the parents would be all-important is equally consist with my preferred explanation—that children tend to inherit various traits from their parents, and that these traits cause the greater part of the difference in outcome. For instance, if fewer from the lower class do not get a higher education, is this really because they are deprived of the chance by their family environment*—or because their parents were members of the lower class due to lack of intelligence, drive, whatnot, and that the children inherited these characteristics? (Note that back-breaking tuition fees is not an issue in either of Sweden and Germany.)

*Indeed, to the degree that the family environment is important, I suspect that the common anti-education, anti-intellectual attitude of many in the lower class is more important than the actual education levels and amount of money available. This, in turn, is hard to correct through “social justice”, but is something that school would be well placed to improve. (Unfortunately, school is more likely to kill the interest than to grow it…)

Excursion on children:
The question of children is tricky, because they have to live with the consequences of their parents actions. On the one hand, they have to be protected from at least the worst situations. On the other, giving them too much help would end up giving the parents a better life that they have earned. Ensuring a reasonable minimum of living conditions, food* quality/quantity, and clothing is justifiable, but going much beyond this will likely do little good. I took no harm from hand-me-downs when I was a child—nor from the absence of brand products and vacations abroad.** What help is given should preferably be in a more direct form than money, so that it cannot be abused for other purposes.

*Here there can be greater issues involved than affordability, e.g. that the children are given candy and junk-food instead of proper meals.

**And should this be an issue today, which is sometimes claimed by the proponents of the misnomer “relative poverty”, it is the attitudes of society that need to change—not the wealth distribution.

Excursion on forms of help:
Most well-fare and whatnot programs seem to be directed at giving money. This is the easy way out for the government, and likely what brings the politicians the more votes, but I cannot see it as a good way: Apart from giving e.g. food-stamps* the preference over money, the better general approach is to “teach a man to fish”. Give people the means and incentives to earn more. Help them to avoid unnecessary debt and move existing high-interest debt somewhere with lower interest. Help them to make a budget. Help them to avoid unnecessary expenditures. Etc. There are people who already have optimized what they can and still lack money, but most are far from that point.

*But then some on the Left will complain that using food-stamps might be humiliating and, therefore, unacceptable.

Written by michaeleriksson

October 9, 2018 at 11:55 pm

The 2017 Nobel Prizes: Women and the Nobel Prize

with one comment

To briefly follow-up on women and the Nobel Prize, I note that 2017 saw a total of 11 laureates (not counting the Peace Prize, awarded to an organization). Again, all of them were men.

See the 2016 article for a deeper discussion, or the article that caused my interest in the matter.

Written by michaeleriksson

October 14, 2017 at 11:00 pm

PC annoyances

with 3 comments

One of the great annoyances and proofs of human stupidity is the many, many, many news items where poor reasoning or ignorance is used to support a politically correct agenda (be it by the journalist or the politicians, whatnot, reported on). I regularly find myself keeping a browser tab open, because I want to write something about a particularly idiotic item—but before I get around to it a week has passed and I have ten open tabs. (At which point I usually resign myself and just close them.)

Particularly common problems include:

  1. Variations of the 77-cents-on-the-dollar myth, which has been debunked for years*. Recently, e.g., the video-text of the German ARD reported that Germany is about to introduce transparency rules implying that women should have a (presumably asymmetric) right to find out what men in similar positions in their companies earn.

    *Cf. e.g. several earlier posts.

    A major problem with this is that just having the same (let alone a “similar”) position is not that strong an indication of what someone earns or should earn. Other criteria include actual performance, experience, education, how long the position has been held, and (very notably) negotiating* skill and tactic.

    *It could be argued that this is a bad thing, but as is it is a fact of life. I also suspect that it would be hard to abolish without risking a system where everyone is payed based on purely formal criteria, e.g. years in the company.

    The last item is particularly interesting, because men* tend to be more aggressive negotiators and are relatively more likely to turn down offers based on money—while increasing the risk of periods of unemployment and rejections. We can now have scenarios where four out of four women are hired at X (in some currency, for some time interval), while out of four more aggressively negotiating men three are hired at 1.1X and the fourth goes unemployed. The women find out that the three men earn more (while being ignorant of or disregarding the fourth), demand a raise with charges of sexual discrimination, and we end up with four women and three men earning 1.1X and one unemployed man… One group takes the high risk road for a higher reward and the other group receives the same reward without taking the risks… (With many variations, e.g., that is possible that everyone would have gotten 1.1X at a given company—but that only the men asked for it. Negotiations are there because the employers want to pay the least amount they can get away with—not because they want to systematically give women less money. I have even been asked outright what the smallest offer was that I would accept…)

    *Here and elsewhere I take is as granted that we speak of group differences, relative probabilities, and so on. That individual variations exists is a given and will not be spelled out.

    The first item (performance) is also of of extreme importance: In software development, my own field of practice, the difference in output and quality can be so large that it would often be easily justifiable to pay the one developer twice as much as the other. (Unfortunately, the decision makers are usually under the very unfortunate misconception that software developers are fungible and differences of that size are far rarer than they should be. Still, that someone earns 10, 20, 0r 30 % more is not automatically a sign of discrimination, skill at negotiation, or any non-performance factor—quite often it is a result of better performance.)

  2. Variations of women-are-not-successful-in-technology-due-to-discrimination.

    The truth is simply this: Men and women have different aptitudes and interests. Men more often end up as e.g. software developers and women as e.g. kindergarten teachers because that matches their natural preferences. Too boot, the women I have encountered so far in software development have only very rarely broken into the top half of the pack; off the top of my head, I recall no single woman who broke into the top quarter. (But I stress that my sample is too small to make statements about the overall population of female developers with certainty.)

    A particularly idiotic example is reporting on Facebook’s diversity program (which I originally encountered in a German news source which just parrots the original without any critical thinking).

    Facebook wants to diversify, but this “has been hampered by a multi-layered hiring process that gives a small committee of high-ranking engineers veto power over promising candidates”. Of course those pesky white men are at it again: “The engineering leaders making the ultimate choices, almost all white or Asian men, often assessed candidates on traditional metrics like where they attended college, whether they had worked at a top tech firm, or whether current Facebook employees could vouch for them”.

    What makes this particularly outrageous is the mention of “white or Asian men” in manner that very obviously is intended to imply that “white or Asian men” is the actual problem. It is not: The criteria used by these “white or Asian men” are sound and justified. The problem here is not the decision making process—it is the lack of suitable candidates. If (!) there is a problem here it is not with Facebook but with earlier stages: Facebook cannot be faulted if too few members of minority groups have gone to Stanford and MIT. This article* makes creating diversity a higher priority than finding the right person for the job at hand—an absurd attempt to create equality of outcome through destroying equality of opportunity. Notably, there is not one shred of proof presented that the decision makers would discriminate based on e.g. ethnicity—but if the lead of the article was followed, they would be forced to do so!

    *There are a number of problems with the article that I will not analyze in detail, but most of them boil down to observing result X and concluding Y without regard for other alternatives. For instance, it is true that using school as a criterion at the last stage of the process, rather than the first stage, is a bad idea—but if school has not been considered appropriately in the earlier stages and the sensible people only have a say in the last stage, well, better late than never. For instance, the claim that promising candidates, cf. above, are filtered out, is unsubstantiated and an explanation of “promising” is not given. For all we know, “promising” could here mean nothing but “is Hispanic, has a bachelor, wants to work here”—which is a long way from “is Hispanic, has a master from MIT with a great GPA, and has ten years of relevant experience”.

    (Not to forget: There is nothing remarkable with these decision makers being “white or Asian men”. Almost certainly this also reflects the suitable candidates in an earlier generation.)

    What has happened here is easy to understand: Facebook started to search for more diversified candidates, put them into the process, and found them being filtered out again, because they were not satisfactory. By analogy, if a fisherman casts his net wider, he will still not get the fish that is small enough to slip through the net.

  3. “Mäns våld mot kvinnor” (“mens’ violence against women”) is a Swedish specialty, but has similar variations in e.g. the U.S. (notably the misconception that domestic violence is committed predominantly by men onto women, which is very far from true).

    Using this specific phrase, feminists has spent decades running a grossly sexist campaign that paints men as serial abusers and women as innocent victims. Violence in the other direction and any other form of violence is strictly ignored. Violence simply is not a problem for these people—except when the perpetrator is a man and the victim a woman. To boot, “Mäns våld mot kvinnor” is painted as gigantic problem, while it in reality is a marginal issue: The vast majority of men do not in any way, shape, or form abuse their women.

    Unfortunately, feminist populism has become such a staple in Swedish mainstream political rhetoric that this type of hate speech and sexist rhetoric is regularly uttered even by high level politicians.

Written by michaeleriksson

January 13, 2017 at 6:11 am