On Writing

One of things I wish I was better at doing is answering questions sent by readers and now listeners. I have an e-mail address tied to this site, but I don’t look it often enough, so I tend to be late in getting back to people. Then there are the questions that come through the comment section of YouTube and through social media. In an effort to clean up my act I have been trying to catch up on all of it and I noticed I get a lot of questions about writing and the task of writing. It’s a popular topic, apparently, so I thought I’d make a post of it.

It’s good timing, as I have started to go through my posts here looking for ones to pin to a greatest hits link on the site. This is a very common suggestion, so I’m working on that now. That means re-reading five year old posts, which has been edifying. I started this blog with the idea of doing no editing, just a stream of consciousness sort of thing, but that did not come out well. Looking back, I appreciate the terribleness of the effort even more, as I have evolved a style that seems to work pretty well for me and my audience.

That brings me to the question I get a lot and that is, how to be a good writer. I don’t know the answer to that as I’m not sure you can be a good writer in the objective sense. I like certain styles more than others, but that does not mean the styles I don’t like are the result of bad form. I could have weird tastes. My hunch is “good writers” are those who have figured out a style that works for them. It allows them to efficiently get across to the reader, the points they are trying to make on the subjects they find interesting.

Most likely, the only way to do that is write a lot. Looking over this blog, I see that I have slowly, through trial and error, developed a style that I like reading. It took a while and some of my ideas turned out to be wacky, but for the last couple of years I have stuck to a form and method that I find easy. This has corresponded with a rapid growth in readership, suggesting that I have found a style that works for me. I find it easier to write now than at any time in my life, so I suspect getting “good” means finding what works for you.

On the other hand, I’m a different reader than I was five years ago. Until I started posting every day, I never thought too much about writing styles. When I did start thinking about it, I became a different reader. I also started reading much more and much more variety. I have read books and articles on a much broader range of topics that in the past, mostly because I’ve become curious about writing styles. Writing a movie review is a different task from writing a short story. Different jobs mean different skills.

If I were giving advice to a young person, who wanted to make a career writing, I’d probably tell them to read for a few hours each day, but never read the same type of material two days in row. The thing I’ve come to notice about the popular writers I don’t like is they are blinkered. I get the sense that they are not very curious about the world. Maybe that’s the key to being an enjoyable writer, a healthy curiosity. Or, maybe it is just something I enjoy. It’s hard to know, but reading is always its own reward.

A related question I get a lot, concerns the writers I mock from time to time. The reason I make sport of people like Kevin Williamson is not the content, so much as the lack of candor. I like opinion writers who write their own opinions. For me, the best writers are those who are smart, honest and clear. Over the last few years, I’ve come to the conclusion that Williamson is none of those things. I never liked George Will for much the same reason. Will is a ridiculous phony and I have no tolerance for phonies.

On the other hand, one of my favorite writers ever was the late Christopher Hitchens. I doubt I agreed with any of his opinions, but he always struck me as someone who said what he thought and did so in a way that made it easy to understand. He was also a well read and smart guy. He just happened to believe a lot of insane things about the world, but he was a extraordinarily good writer. I never read a Hitchens piece and thought he was trying to fool me or he was simply writing for a paycheck. That counts for a lot.

Clarity is probably the rarest thing in writing, so I really appreciate that in writers. I’m re-reading Greg Cochran’s The 10,000 Year Explosion and I marvel at the clarity. These are hard topics, yet Cochran has a way of getting to the point that makes the material easy to understand. Getting to the point is the key. I’ve never understood why anyone wants to be a windbag. My advice to any writer is make your point and move on to the next point. If you need to keep returning to the point, maybe you don’t know the material.

Finally, a question that comes up often is why I pick the topics I pick every day. Maybe there is some pattern here that I don’t see, but my selection criteria is quite elaborate and complex. I sit down and whatever comes to my head at the moment, is the topic for the day. I like writing in the morning, so whatever I woke up thinking about that day is the topic of the day. Basically, I write about what I feel like reading about at the moment. Usually, I don’t find much out there, so I write what I wish I could be reading.

Until just now, that’s not something I thought about much, but my bet is the really good writers stick to a style and focus on subjects they like reading. I’m a Faulkner fan, having read everything he wrote, and that’s what always struck me about him. He wrote with himself as the target audience. Hemingway wrote to impress people, but Faulkner wrote to entertain himself. In the fullness of time, Faulkner will be remembered as one of our greatest writers and Hemingway will be remembered as a boorish clown.

Diary: February 2018

Every time I write one of these, I say I will make it a regular feature. That never happens for some reason. The “collection of small items” has been a staple of magazine writing for generations because it is easy to produce and popular with readers. It works well for blogs like this, as it lets the blogger address all of the small items that don’t warrant a longer post. For some reason I have not developed the habit. My mind is aglow with whirling, transient nodes of thought careening thru a cosmic vapor of invention…..

Looking at the server logs, I was surprised to see continued growth in traffic. January of 2018 saw a 9% increase in traffic versus January 2017. February, on the other hand, has been a little flat, relative to last year, but February has always been the slowest month for some reason. July is the second slowest month and that makes sense. July is the biggest vacation month in the US. Even adjusting for the lost days, February has been the slowest month for this site since I started. I have no answer for it.

I’ve always assumed there is an upper limit to one man blogs. I could be wrong about it, but that’s my hunch. The reason is there is only so much anyone has to say about the world. Eventually, even the most expansive writer starts to repeat certain themes. Read anyone long enough and you notice it. Of course, some writers limit themselves to one topic, so they hit that point quickly. I have not read Robert Stacy McCain in a long time, as he said everything about blue-haired cat ladies that needed to be said….

The podcast is steadily ticking up in traffic. The funny thing about it is the growth has followed the same pattern as the blog. Obviously, I do nothing to promote myself. I don’t have a rich uncle bankrolling this operation. That means people discover this site and the podcast mostly through bad fortune. Word of mouth growth seems to follow a pattern. At first there is slow growth, then it takes off, but plateaus for a while, and then another period of rapid growth. That’s what’s happening with the podcast.

People have suggested I try some promotion, but I don’t know anything about promoting a podcast and I’m not all that interested in learning. Self-promotion is not something that comes naturally to me. A guy like Mike Cernovich is a natural self-promoter, despite the fact he has nothing to offer the world. Even though he is a nullity, he can attract a crowd, thus proving the power of marketing. That and the world has never been short of stupid people willing to give an mendacious clown like Cernovich an audience…

I got a few e-mails asking my thoughts on the Florida shooting. I’m in the John Derbyshire camp on this one. There is a reason these things happen, but it has nothing to do with any of the reasons we see the loonies shouting about on television. This time the Progressive nutters have enlisted a group of child actors, but the Left has been exploiting children this way since forever. This time it feels new, only because it has been a while since the last “what about the children” stunt, but otherwise it is the same show.

My hunch here is that “school shooter” has become a thing for the same reason “going postal” was a thing once. In a mass media society, certain things gain currency simply because they travel well on the mass medium. School shootings make for good TV and good scream show fodder. If you are a troubled kid seeking attention, the world is showing you the path. Eventually, some new nut will come along and do something else to be famous and that will be the thing everyone puzzles over for a while.

I will note that mass shootings adhere to Moynihan’s Law of the Canadian border. Someone plotted these events on a map and it is quite clear. The more diversity, the more likely you are to have these types of incidents. That’s not surprising. A mentally unstable person in a land of strangers is not going to get much help and they are going to feel even more alienated. It’s also why crime is higher in more diverse parts of the country, but it is a small prize for you to pay so Tyler Cowen can have kebabs on Wednesday…

Speaking of diversity, this story on the best states was amusing. Our Progressive rulers try very hard to make these things look empirical, but in the end, they prefer to live where there are not a lot of non-whites. Iowa is the fifth whitest state in the country and its non-white population is packed into well defined areas. Look at the whole list and that pattern is clear. The one exception is West Virginia, but Lefty hates hillbillies almost as much as he hates black people. Hill country will never be gentrified…

I got banned from Twitter last week for calling Piers Morgan a bad name. It is a seven day ban that expires on Friday. This is the second time this has happened and both times it was for directing unpleasant thoughts at a famous person. The first time I got zapped was for saying something mean about Dale Earnhardt Jr., believe it or not. From what I gather, the quickest way to get tossed from social media is to insult a famous person. You can promise to murder a member of the hoi polloi, but don’t dare insult a rich or famous person.

This is a trend we are seeing all over. The other day, some hockey fans were thrown out of the arena for being mean to one of the players. Heckling the players has been a tradition at hockey games since forever, but now feelings, especially the feelings of rich and famous people, count for everything. I suspect we are not too far from this becoming law. We will see rich people acquitted for killing a staffer, because they will contend the staffer insulted them in some way. Insulting a rich person will become a serious crime.

As un-American as this sounds, it is the norm in human societies. For most of human history, vexing someone in the ruling class was a good way to end up in the dungeon or on the scaffold. That is, to a great degree, the motivation behind the crack downs on speech in America. It’s not that the alt-right is spreading heresy or subversion. It’s that what they say makes the cat ladies sad. It’s why the people in charge are so viscous about this stuff. Hell hath no fury like a cat lady scorned…

The other day, the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal from the administration on DACA. This is a standard thing the court does to try and force the lower courts to act properly. In other words, it is a process thing that sucks for the plaintiffs, but is good for the courts. The media trumpeted this a massive setback for Trump in his efforts to end the DACA program. Every news site, even Drudge, presented it as the beginning of the end for Trump, even though it is nothing of the sort.

It is, though, another reminder of the staggering dishonestly of our media. If the Washington Post printed my name on their front page, I’m getting my birth certificate out, assuming I have been wrong about my name for fifty years. I don’t even trust the date printed on news stories anymore. I suspect I’m not alone in now assuming all news is fake news. This can’t be a good thing. Maybe it will fix itself in time, but I suspect a big part of what troubles our society is just the endless lying of the people in charge…

Finally, it is easy to look around at the world and get depressed. Most days, the bad news outweighs the good news by a factor of ten. We are ruled by suicidal lunatics. Further, time is running out on doing something about it. One more click of the ratchet and future generations will be living in the rubble of our society. To use a sportsball analogy, it is the late innings and the olde towne team is behind. But, it is not all bad news. This post by Audacious Epigone is a good reminder that the good guys are making up ground.

Maybe it is too late. Maybe all of us are doing nothing more than leaving a record so the robot historians will know that not all of us were mad. Until that is clear though, it is important to keep fighting. Maybe this thing can be turned around in time to leave a better world for those who come after us. Slowly, white Americans are waking up to what faces them. In that regard, the momentum is on our side. We just have to keep chipping away at it and maybe one day the lunatics will be sent back to their asylums…

Travelogue – Boston

I spent many hears in Boston and I come back regularly. Even so, I’m always surprised to see some unexpected change. Even in a sclerotic culture like New England, life does not stand still. New buildings are built to replace old ones. Roads get redesigned. The general look and feel of the place changes over time. To paraphrase Heraclitus, you never visit the same city twice. Perhaps it is just a function of age, but when I travel now, I’m much more aware of what has changed, rather than what is familiar.

The biggest thing that has changed since my last trip here is me. There used to be a time when Boston was famous for the worst drivers in America. Tourists would bring back their rental cars and take cabs, because after a short dose of Boston drivers, they were too afraid to be on the road here. Now, Boston drivers are nothing special. Having spent the last decade driving the Imperial Capital, my standards have adjusted. Nowhere has traffic like Washington. Los Angeles is a motoring paradise by comparison….

At the airport in Lagos, I saw what I thought was the ugliest women I’d seen to this point in my life. I mean so hideous my instinct was to look away. Then as it approached where I was sitting, I realized it was a tranny. Everyone else had the same reaction. Of course, the tranny was on my plane, but luckily I boarded in the early group so it was sent to the back of the plane. But as luck would have it, the tranny was on the same shuttle to the rental car facility. The looks from the counter agents were priceless.

Driving out of Logan, I could not help but think about what Theodore Dalrymple said about communist societies. Perhaps these efforts to force the rest of us to accept cross-dressing loonies as normal is a push to turn us into emasculated liars. Maybe that’s part of it, but my sense watching the tranny parade around the airport is that this is just wanton decadence. You see this on campus with the vulgar displays of every conceivable sexual prediction. I think we are ruled by a class of Caligulas now, for now…

I had an interesting conversation with friends at dinner on Thursday night. One friend I would describe as between CivNat and Dissident Right. A year ago he was listening to Ben Shapiro, thinking he was radical. Today, he listens to me. It is a trip the ferryman has seen many times. His sister, the other person at dinner, is a life long feminist Progressive, but having doubts as she reaches her middle years. Over dinner, we talked about race, sex, ethnicity, quirks of evolutionary biology. All the stuff popular on the Dissident Right.

I’ve gotten better at talking about these things with normies and reality-curious Progressives. I have a library of pithy stories and examples to make it easy for them to accept biological reality on their terms. In the case of reality-curious Progressives, I frame things in moral terms. It does not always work, but it keeps them from shrieking “Witch! Witch!” and notifying the authorities. Her brother thinks I red-pilled her, but we’ll see. It is a long road from there to the water’s edge. Still, it is another green shoot…

Boston did not fare the previous Progressive Awakening very well. The cultural upheavals of the 60’s and 70’s broke the working class structure of most American cities and Boston was not an exception. As a result, the city was in decline into the 80’s, but then it righted itself in the late 80’s and 90’s. Like New York, rich people started demanding better policing and better schools. The city started knocking down slums and opening up the housing market to developers. By the late-90’s, Boston was in a renaissance.

When the ululating started again in the late Clinton years, the city was not destroyed by Progressive wreckers seeking to make a point, Instead, it was filled with neo-liberal globalists, investing in the city. The colleges exploded with money, as college kids poured in toting government loans and financial aid packages. Boston became a technology hub, with great tech firms ringing the city and biotech startups growing like warts on the college campuses. Eastern Mass as a whole is nothing like it was at its nadir

Locals here are gearing up for another Super Bowl. I moved here the year the Patriots made their first big game, where they were destroyed by the Bears. I was here when they won their first one back in 2002. That would have been the 2001 season. The difference in atmosphere between now and then is stark. The Patriots have been great for close to two decades now. Winning is not as fun for the fans. There’s also the melancholy of knowing that the great run is nearing an end. Both Belichick and Brady are close to done…

Something I forget about until I get here is just how crappy the service is in Boston. In Lagos, the retail shops are run by Koreans and South Asians, so they are super polite to honkies. The businesses staffed with blacks are a riot of inefficiency, but they are polite about it. Here, lots of white people work retail and they act like they are doing you a favor by waiting on you. At the Dunkin Donuts the other morning, the pram-face who served me coffee had a look on her face like she was thinking about sticking a shiv in my ribs…

Remembering Futures Past

A few times a year, I re-read some classic science fiction, just for some variety, but also to see if it still works. One of the funny things about our age is the past is increasingly more alien to us than any imagined future. Reading stories, written in the 1950’s, that depicted life in the far off future, you get some insights into the society that laid the groundwork for our age. Often times, though, it reveals the foolishness and, in retrospect, absurd optimism, about the future and technology.common in the last century.

The old science fiction guys got some things right about the future. Jules Verne, who is the father of science fiction, had amazing insights into the future of technology. You can read Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea today and it still holds up pretty well. On the other hand, a lot of science fiction turned out to be wildly wrong about the future, even by the standards of fiction. I recently re-read The Martian Chronicles and it is laugh out loud terrible in parts. It’s corn-ball pulp fiction now.

Of course, people were much more optimistic about the future in the heyday of science fiction writing. If you would have told Ray Bradbury in the 1950’s that man would not be on Mars by 2018, he would have thought you were a ridiculous pessimist. Of course man would be exploring the solar system in the 21st century. We would have conquered human suffering, united as one and be riding around in nuclear powered flying cars. Instead, the future is trans-gendered otherkins stalking your daughters in public toilets.

We can’t blame the people of the last century for not seeing this stuff coming. We’re living it and it still seems impossibly insane. For Americans in the 1950’s, optimism about the future was natural. America had conquered the world, saving Western Civilization from itself. Technological progress was making life comfortable, even for the poorest. There was no reason to think we were heading for a bad turn. It’s a good lesson that no matter how bad things are now, they can get worse. The future is not written.

Reading The Martian Chronicles, I was reminded of something that turns up in old black and white movies. That is the acceptance of casual violence. In the 1950’s, fictional characters would say things like, “You better give it to me straight or I’ll bash your teeth in” to some other character playing a store clerk. In one of the Bradbury stories, a man from earth arrives on Mars and starts talking with the Martians. The conversations are peppered with threats of personal violence, but in a casual, haphazard manner.

Imagine going into the local retail store and seeing one of the customers telling the clerk that he was going to bash in his skull if he did not hop to it. I doubt fist fights were a regular feature down at the piggly-wiggly, but the threat of personal violence was a common occurrence in movies and fiction. It is not unreasonable to think that the people in the audiences for this stuff found it perfectly normal that men talked to one another in this way, which suggests it was how people talked in their normal lives.

Similarly, most of the characters in Bradbury’s future smoked. In one story, the first thing the earth men do when they land on Mars is have a smoke. Maybe Bradbury was a smoker, but his best writing is when describing the joys of smoking on Mars. I guess it makes sense to think that the future will have better versions of the stuff you really enjoy today. Imagine going back in time and telling sci-fi writers that in the future, men would not only not be on Mars, but smoking would be a crime. They’d think you were crazy.

The other thing about old sci-fi, and it jumps out in The Martian Chronicles, is the fascination people had back then with rockets and nuclear technology. It makes perfect sense. Both seemed impossibly amazing to the people of the time. The fascination with nuclear energy is amusing in hindsight. Science fiction writers 70 years ago thought it was perfectly logical that tiny nuclear reactors would replace all of our energy sources. Still, nuclear powered garments to keep you warm at night is laughably silly in hindsight.

Putting that aside, it is amusing to look back at these conceptions of the future. Many were wildly wrong, because they wanted to be wildly wrong. It is fiction, after all. It’s easy to forget that writers in the first half of the last century were expecting their stuff to be read by men with high school level educations. Granted, a 1950’s high school education was much more than what we see today, but the audience was not a collection of literary sophisticates. The job of the writer was to entertain, not lecture, the reader.

Still, reading old science fiction has a utility to our age, that goes beyond mere amusement. The people of that era, producing this stuff, were very optimistic about the future. They were committed to building a better world. Granted, it all went to shit in the 60’s and we have yet to pull out of the death spiral, but they did not know what they could not know. Our generations don’t have that excuse. We have the hard lessons of failed social experimentation. We have no excuse for tolerating this stuff. We know better.

A Pointless Ramble About YouTube Stars

Every week, I get e-mails from the social media platforms suggesting ways to promote my podcast. Spreaker sends out something a few times a week. Mostly these e-mails are tips about metadata, topic descriptions and video features. They seem sensible, but I can’t help but wonder if it matters all that much. A professionally done, cleverly described and expertly distributed video on model train collecting is still going to be a video of interest to people into model trains. Ultimately, content is the determining factor in this stuff.

That said, it is useful to wonder why some YouTube people have huge audiences and why others have small audiences. Until recent, PewDiePie was unknown to me, despite his having 59 million subscribers. He is the #1 YouTube personality. Having watched some of his videos, I sort of get it. Young people are wired to imitate one another, which is why pop culture is a young person thing. PewDiePie plays video games and tells naughty jokes that very gently and subtly lampoon modern piety. Kids like seeing that stuff.

On the other hand, someone like June Nicole Lapine has close to a million YouTube subscribers. She pitches herself as a liberal anti-feminist and her videos are intended to be satires of social justice warriors. Not being an unmarried millennial woman, I’m probably hard wired to not get her appeal. I watched some of her videos and she is annoying and her act is trite. The earnestly stupid female who really, really cares about stuff has been done to death. At least I thought so, but apparently not.

While reviewing the above videos, this channel was suggested to me by the gods of YouTube. The assumption is they recommend channels based on prior viewing, which means some portion of June Nicole Lapine’s audience is into husky lesbians. The star of that show appears to be a carny, who bills herself as a lesbian comedian. She has half a million subscribers and 70 thousand Twitter followers. After watching some of her videos, I’m reminded of why the phrase “jolly lesbian” does not exist.

Now, half a million subscribers is not big by YouTube standards. To crack the top-100 you need 20 times that number, but most of the top channels are professionally produced music channels, backed by global corporations. Given that there are (maybe) 4 million adult lesbians in America, it suggests that Arielle Scarcella has figured out how to tap into this audience, so to speak, that is not easily understood by watching her videos. The people watching and enjoying her work, are very different people from anyone I know.

It is easy to be puzzled by the popularity of alien performers, but in researching this post, I did learn that Filipinos share the American distaste for the Speedo. That aside, I was made aware of a popular alt-right YouTuber named Andy Warski. His channel has over 250 thousand subscribers. He hosted a marathon debate between Richard Spencer, Sargon, Styx and some others, which is how I learned of him. His live show set some sort of record for viewers, but I don’t have numbers on it. He mentioned it in his show.

Now, I follow the alt-right and listen to some of their bigger personalities. I never heard of the Waski guy until last week. Watching some of his videos, I’m thinking he smokes a lot of weed and has a drawer full of hacky sacks. I’m not getting the popularity, but maybe I’m simply too old to appreciate bro talk anymore. There was a time in my life when my peers used the words “dude” and “whatup”, but that was a long time ago. As with PewDiePie, young bros probably like listening to other young bros talk bro stuff.

I watched some of the Spencer – Sargon battle on that Warsky show and I kept wondering how Sargon got popular. In fact, it was the genesis of this post. Every time he said something stupid, which was pretty much every time he spoke, I thought, “why would anyone like this guy?” He’s just a portly British version of Goth Fonzi. Yet, he has 750 thousand subscribers to his channel, most of whom are probably Americans. According to his Patreon page, he makes $8,000 per month as a YouTube star.

Like many of these popular YouTube stars, Sargon’s gimmick is assurance. He soothingly repeats the platitudes his listeners desperately want to be true. Americans always assume a British accent means intelligence, so Sargon’s fans are being told they are right about the world, by a smart British guy, who sounds confident and reasonable. It’s why his clash with Spencer was a disaster for him. He was revealed to be a petulant, argumentative airhead. His act only works when he is unchallenged and scripted.

It is a good reminder, though, that the audience for libertarian self-flattery is much larger than realism. People like easy answers and magical thinking. It’s why the number one right-wing Progressive is Ben Shapiro. His podcast is number one in terms of downloads, according to those claiming to know these things. I’m always suspicious when rankings are used in lieu of hard numbers, but a search of YouTube reveals his Daily Wire stuff gets about 250 thousand views. His channel has half a million subscribers.

All of that said, the people popular in their YouTube segment all have a couple things in common. One is their presentation is calm. Internet video is like television. It is a cool medium. Shouting and craziness on video, come off like shouting and craziness in person. You can be a crazy Mark Levin, screaming like a madman on radio, because radio is a hot medium. The better YouTube people could just as easily being doing their show from your bedroom. Most shoot their shows from their bedrooms and living-rooms.

The other thing they do well is they make no effort to imitate the legacy media. YouTube is not public access TV or a poor version of cable. The authenticity of the presentation seems to be what works. People like hearing people like them confirm what they think about the world. Watching a polished TV airhead repeat threadbare platitudes, even soothing ones, is not as effective as hearing a friendly voice, that sounds like you, saying the things you think in private. YouTube is a collection of mirrors that clap.

Major Waste

Way back in the tyranny of Bush the Minor, I read a funny article in one of the news magazines, while waiting for a haircut. This was in the early days of his administration when the accounting scandals hit and the tech bubble burst tanked the economy. The liberal media was sure it was all the result of the gods being angry over Bush getting elected over Gore, so they filled their pages with horror stories about the economy. The story was a tale of woe about Ivy League grads unable to find work.

The one example I always remember was about a girl who had graduated from Harvard and was unable to find a job she deserved. Instead she was reduced to waiting tables (gasp!) and doing temp work in offices. The story went through her struggles to get interviews and her process of considering alternative career options. Finally she landed a job as a social worker for the city. The piece wrapped up with a quick summary of her story and it was revealed that she had majored in folklore at Harvard.

Whenever the topic of college majors comes up, I always think of that story. I’ve made a hobby of rooting around in the course catalogs of liberal arts colleges, looking for bizarre classes and majors. Nothing so far has topped the Harvard Folklore and Mythology degree. Our colleges are full of lunatics doing useless work, of course, but there is some effort to dress it up as legitimate academic work. There’s no way to dress up a major in folklore. Exactly no one has ever said in an emergency, “We need a folklorist!”

Anyway, this post on Greg Cochran’s site brought all that to mind. His post links to this cool graphic put together by NPR displaying the majors over time, relative to other majors and college graduates as a whole. It’s one of those things that could be done with charts or traditional graphs, but it is a lot more fun hovering over that thing. I learned that there is such a thing as a fitness major, which sounds a lot like gym, but my bet is it has lots of “queering” and race stuff to it. Pointless majors tend to go hard for the crazy.

Another interesting tidbit is the fact that zoology has just about disappeared as a college major. It looks like the annual numbers are in the hundreds now. Maybe colleges have re-branded it as something cooler. Biology has not had a ton of growth over the last few decades either, so maybe not. It does suggest that young people no longer have an interest in the natural world. My guess is the number of young people experiencing the natural world is at an all-time low. Kids are not into hunting, fishing or farming.

The volume of business majors is the eye opener. Greg asked in his post what readers thought was the least valuable degree. That’s a loaded question, but objectively business has to be on the list. Most of the course work is stuff you never need in the business world. Accounting courses are useful, but few kids retain any of it. The math courses should be helpful, but many business majors never take more than the minimum of math required for graduation. The SAT scores for business majors explain the popularity.

The truth is, college is a major waste of time and money for most of the students. Only 59% of students graduate from college in six years. Some fraction of the rest go back and get their credential, but by that point it has lost its market value. This assumes it has a market value. A Ivy League diploma still carries weight. A Stanford degree opens secret doors that most don’t know exist, but in the case of the elite, it is not the degree so much as the connections. Mixing with tomorrow’s rulers is the real value of the degree.

Outside of STEM fields, it is hard to judge the value of a college degree. The constant refrain from the college industrial complex is that college graduates earn eleventy billion more in their lifetime, compared to non-graduates. There a lot of fun with numbers in those studies. People with “some college” tend to earn about the same as people with four-year degrees, suggesting IQ is the real issue here. If you are bright enough to get into college, you are as bright as the people who get out of college with a degree.

The only way to measure the value of a diploma is on a case by case situation. If your goal is to be an engineer, then you need the paper. On the other hand, if you are walking out of college with $80,000 in debt, by the time you pay off the loans, the real cost is 30% more in interest and opportunity cost. Your lifetime earnings probably justify that initial investment. On the other hand, if your goal is to be a medieval folklorist, you’re probably better off playing a lot of Dungeons & Dragons or World of Warcraft.

All that aside, the college rackets are another example of how social trust has declined in America over the generations. There’s little doubt now that colleges prey on the angst of middle-class families. The declining value of a college diploma corresponds with the skyrocketing cost of getting it. It is a bust out, the sort of thing predators do to people they view as strangers. Just as the college campus is a collection of grifters pretending to be colleagues and academics, America is a land of strangers pretending to be citizens.

The New Zeroes

In the coming decades, Western nations are going to be faced with a number of problems stemming from the technological revolution. Some are already with us. We are now post-scarcity societies, where we have more than enough food, medicine and housing for our citizens and even some non-citizens. The pruning force of scarcity is no longer doing its magic to keep the population fit or even sensible. The next big problem is what to do with the tens of millions of extra humans, no longer needed to contribute to society.

The hardest part of the automation wave coming in the next decades will simply be language. What do you call people who no longer have any purpose, in terms of producing goods and services through their labor? For as long as anyone has been alive, the very small slice of the population that has fit this definition could simply be dismissed on moral terms. The underclass is assumed to be lazy or anti-social. Trying to fix this has been a good way to keep the useless off-spring of the middle classes busy is social work.

When the numbers swell as automation eliminates the need for human labor in wide swaths of the economy, it will be impossible to dismiss the idle. When many of the idle are people who formerly occupied office jobs or semi-skilled laboring positions, blaming their condition on a lack of ambition is not going to be possible. The current labor participation rate is about 63% right now. This is about where it was in the Carter years. In the coming decades, that number will fall below 50% due to automation and demographics.

The other challenge is how to support the swelling ranks of the useless in a way that keeps them from causing trouble. The hot idea currently is the universal basic income, which is being experimented with in Finland. In the US, some states are talking about how to replace their welfare programs with something more simple like the UBI. Libertarian economists like the idea of the UBI, because it theoretically allows the under classes to participate in the market economy, unencumbered by the state.

The trouble with this idea, one that they can never overcome, is math. If all citizens have a floor, in terms of their basic income, whatever that floor is, will be the new zero. The only possible way to have a negative income, in real terms, is if someone is paying their employer for the right to work. There may be some bizarre situations where that exists, but in the main, zero is the smallest number that can appear in box #1 of your W2. If that number is bumped up by the UBI, that becomes the new zero, the lowest possible.

Think of it this way. Imagine the government decides to help BMW sell more cars, so they offer every citizen $5000 if they spend it on a BMW, rather than some other car. BMW is now facing a wave of people coming into American dealerships toting a $5,000 check payable to BMW. The logical thing for BMW to do is raise the price of their low end models by $5000. That way, they don’t increase production costs, but they increase the profit per car. In effect, the floor for entry level buyers was just raised by $5000 by the government.

There’s a pretty good real world example of this. The government decided to do something to help working class people get into college. Since many need remedial help, before taking on college work, the scheme was to offer a subsidy to be used for community colleges. The students would use the money to prep for college then head off to a four year university, presumably using loans and aid at that level. The result, however, was the community colleges just raised their tuition by about 65% of the subsidy.

The Universal Basic Income would most likely follow the same pattern. By guaranteeing that no one would earn less than some amount, in lieu of traditional welfare payments, the absolute floor becomes the subsidy level. In effect, the new zero becomes the subsidy so all other wages would be based off that, as the price of goods and services would correspondingly adjust. It is really no different than printing up money and dropping it from helicopters into the ghetto. The UBI would be as inflationary as debasing the currency.

The truth is, the zeroes that our rulers will be forced to address are zero population growth and zero TFR among the surplus populations. For example, you could fix Baltimore in a generation with mandatory Norplant for the underclass. A generation of childless females means the last generation of 80 IQ residents with a propensity for violence. The reason Baltimore is a violent city is not an excess of hard working, college educated STEM workers. The reason the city is a violent mess is the surplus of violent stupid people.

It also means zero immigration. When 80% of today’s immigrants end up on public assistance, the immigrants of tomorrow will be nothing more than useless people to police, feed and house. Japan is the model to follow. They have no immigration and their population levels are about to drop in the coming decades. They are the only nation on earth that is truly ready for the automated future, as they have the demographics to meet a shrinking demand for labor. They also have the cultural confidence to pull it off.

There’s one other zero the West will have to tackle and that is zero participation. The fact is, free-market consumerism and mass democracy work when the right answer is not obvious. As automation takes over more and more tasks, the number of issues that need to be hashed out collectively will diminish. Rule by robot means exactly that, which means voting and popular government will have to be reconsidered. What’s the point of being mayor when there are no more patronage jobs to dole out to friends and family?

2018 Predictions

I had not looked at last year’s predictions since I posted them, so I was a little surprised by how many of them turned out to be right. The prediction about Trump and Republicans pushing through a big tax bill was pretty spot on. Trump has also attacked the regulatory code as I predicted. I did predict the GOP would do some rollback on ObamaCare, which did not happen, other than repeal of the mandate. I was also right on the climate change stuff. Trump has reversed Federal policy on climate change and faced little resistance.

I did not get the China stuff right. Of course, it is hard to know as the ChiComs are good at hiding their systemic trouble.The fact that no one is talking about China’s economy these days suggests the boom times are over, so maybe I was just a year early. I missed on the Middle East stuff, but there’s no shame in that. I did hit a home run on the gene editing prediction. I was also prescient on the alt-right in-fighting. In fairness, that was so obvious I can’t take credit for that one. Pretty much the only thing they do well is squabble.

So, what are the signs telling me this year?

The Trump agenda will trundle along with the negotiations over DACA amounting nothing, as the Democrats find that there is no constituency for the program. Instead, it will be allowed to expire and Trump will be painted as the bad guy, but no one will care, including Trump. Instead, the focus will be on the infrastructure bill, which will turn into a massive Christmas tree that both parties get to decorate. In that bill will be some sort of second chance provision for DACA, along with money for that wall and other immigration items.

On the domestic political front, the Mueller investigation will keep taking on water as it becomes clear that the real issue is not Russian meddling in the presidential election, but FBI meddling in the election. Trump may even appoint a new special prosecutor to dig into the FBI, Uranium One and the DOJ shenanigans. This will begin to spill into the midterms, as the Republicans figure out that this is a chance for them to blunt Democrat gains. The Democrats will pickup some seats in the House, but lose some seats in the Senate.

This will be the year that gene editing in health care moves to center stage. Researchers in California used a new technique in 2017 to alter a patient’s DNA in an effort to treat a metabolic disease called Hunter syndrome. Health care is about to make a tremendous leap forward with respect to treating genetic disorders. Similarly, micro-technology is about to revolutionize medical testing with trackable pills that collect information about a patient throughout their day. The morality of new medicine starts to get serious attention.

One of the consequences of the big GOP tax bill will be the impact it will have on Europe’s not so robust economy. The disparity in corporate tax rates was a boon to Europe, but now the roles are reversed and companies will begin to repatriate cash and jobs to the United States this year. This will put more pressure on the EU and on pro-EU parties, as the nationalist parties are just starting the get their act together. This will also cause the Brexit negotiations to fail and it  will bring down the Theresa May government.

At the same time, the various nationalist parties on the Continent will continue to grow their support due to the intractable migrant problem and the establishment’s inability to formulate a coherent response. Emmanuel Macron will push through a set of immigration reforms that will legitimize the nationalists parties and increase demands for reform in the rest of the EU. Even more frightening to the European establishment, Sebastian Kurz, the new Austrian Chancellor, will start talking with the Visegrád Group about cooperation.

While electric car sales will continue to grow, they will remain a toy for the upper middle-class. The real growth in electric vehicles will be at the lower end. Electrically assisted bicycles, self-balancing one wheel scooters, powered skateboards and hi-tech mobility scooters for old people will become the next big thing. Electric cars face all sorts of obstacles, but new battery technology will open the door for micro-travel devices that are relatively cheap and meet the demands for old people and urban residents.

The much anticipated IPO of Saudi Aramco will not be done publicly. Bankers in London and New York have been maneuvering to get what many think will be the biggest IPO ever. Instead, the Saudis will opt for a private offering and it will not be the trillion dollar event everyone expects. This will lead to speculation about the stability of the kingdom and questions about the future of the House of Saud. Saudi Arabia is basically a hedge fund with a country attached. Aramco’s stock price will be the measure of Saudi health.

Finally, the New York Yankees will be the first team in baseball history to lose all 162 regular season games. The embarrassment will cause city officials to evict the team, forcing them to move to New Jersey. The enormity of this sporting catastrophe will be eclipsed by the sudden bankruptcy of the English Premiere League. The death of professional football in England will have a domino effect, resulting in the collapse of all professional football leagues, even the NFL, which is a different football.

That’s it for this year. It has been a another great year for the blog, adding tens of thousands of new readers and many new commenters. I appreciate everyone taking the time out of their day to read and respond. It has also been a great start to the podcast, despite the fact I have done very little to promote it. As has been the case with the blog, the podcast audience grows by word of mouth. I appreciate everyone posting links on social media and recommending me to their friends and enemies. I truly appreciate it.

Happy New Year to one and all.

Merry Christmas

As you can see, I have powered down a bit for the holiday weekend. Like Thanksgiving weekend, this is a time of year when I try to get in some down time. Christmas falling on a Monday makes for the perfect opportunity for a long weekend. I keep a busy schedule posting original material every day and putting out a podcast each week. I will be back posting on Tuesday through the New Year and I will also be putting up a special Kwanzaa podcast. That’s what we in the hate-thinking business call “low hanging fruit.”

Merry Christmas!