The Drucker Lectures: Short Film of Peter Drucker

This is part of the DR Book Collection.

Image result for the drucker lecturesThe late Peter Drucker (1909-2005) is one of the most influential management thinkers of all time as well as “the most cited management writer in the textbooks, exceeding that of Abraham Maslow, Max Weber, and Frank and Lillian Gilbreth…”[ref]Patricia G. McLaren, Albert J. Mills, Gabrielle Durepos, “Disseminating Drucker: Knowledge, Tropes and the North American Management Textbook,” Journal of Management History 15:4 (2009): 391.[/ref] His influence has been felt worldwide, particularly in Japan during the post-war boom.[ref]See also Chuck Ueno, “Peter Drucker’s Influence in Japan,” People and Strategy 32:4 (2009): 8-9. While the Clarke Professor of Social Sciences and Management at Claremont Graduate School, Drucker also lectured in Oriental Art at Pomona College and was appointed to the Board of the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco.[/ref] His outlook on management was that of a liberal art—“‘liberal’ because it deals with the fundamentals of knowledge, self-knowledge, wisdom, and leadership; ‘art’ because it is also concerned with practice and application.”[ref]Peter F. Drucker, The Essential Drucker (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), 13.[/ref] When Drucker was asked why he was turning his attention from corporate management to churches in his later years, he politely corrected them: “As far as I’m concerned, it’s the other way around. I became interested in management because of my interest in religion and institutions.” Drucker’s views on management, corporations, and the like were heavily influenced by his reading of Soren Kierkegaard. “Key to Kierkegaard’s philosophy (and to Drucker’s understanding of it) is the emphasis that Kierkegaard placed on living in the material realm.”[ref]Karen E. Linkletter, Joseph A. Maciariello, “Genealogy of a Social Ecologist,” Journal of Management History 15:4 (2009): 338.[/ref] Drucker’s search for existential purpose within the material realm of organizations can also be traced to his German intellectual and cultural background. Some researchers have viewed him as “a secularized German theologian” bucking against “‘the fall’ of modernity…”[ref]Madeline Toubiana, Gad Yair, “The Salvation of Meaning in Peter Drucker’s Oeuvre,” Journal of Management History 18:2 (2012): 179.[/ref] For many German scholars, “modernity meant an abandonment of tradition, coupled with a loss of meaning and faith…”[ref]Toubiana, Yair, 2012: 182.[/ref] Thus, Drucker believed that organizations and managers had “secularized theological duties; …moral duties in a world devoid of meaning[.]”[ref]Toubiana, Yair, 2012: 179.[/ref] In essence, work within an organization became a kind of worship; a way to tap into a higher purpose. As Drucker summarized,

Management always lives, works, and practices in and for an institution, which is a human community held together by the bond that, next to the tie of family, is the most powerful human bond: the work bond. And precisely because the object of management is a human community held together by the work bond for a common purpose, management always deals with the Nature of Man, and…with Good and Evil as well. I have learned more theology as a practicing management consultant than I did when I taught religion.[ref]Quoted in Linkletter, Maciariello, 2009: 339.[/ref]

It is because of insights like these that I recently read through The Drucker Lectures: Essential Lessons on Management, Society, and EconomyThe book is not a series of formalized essays or selections from published works, but delivered lectures and remarks spanning from the 1940s to 2003 (Drucker passed away in 2005). You get a sense of the consistent themes of his work, even as his philosophy evolved.

You can catch of glimpse of this in the short film below.

Who Benefits From Trade?

A new study published last month in The Quarterly Journal of Economics attempts to answer that question. Their results?:

We find a pro-poor bias of trade in every country. On average, the real income loss from closing off trade is 63% at the 10th percentile of the income distribution and 28% for the 90th percentile. This bias in the gains from trade toward poor consumers hinges on the fact that these consumers spend relatively more on sectors that are more traded, whereas high-income individuals consume relatively more services, which are among the least traded sectors. Additionally, low-income consumers happen to concentrate spending on sectors with a lower elasticity of substitution across source countries. Larger expenditures in more tradeable sectors and a lower rate of substitution between imports and domestic goods lead to larger gains from trade for the poor than the rich (pgs. 1116-1117).

From the authors’ Vox article.

Previous studies have found net benefits to average Americans. For example, according to a 2005 study,

Estimated annual gains are on the order of $1 trillion. The estimated gain in 2003 income is in the range of $2,800 to $5,000 additional income for the average person and between $7,100 and $12,900 for the average household. Future gains are harder to quantify, not surprisingly since the future is always difficult to predict. The estimates range from $450 billion to $1.3 trillion (pg. 68).

While some recent studies (such as Autor et al. 2016) have looked at the job loss caused by trade, some economists have expressed skepticism and even confusion over the claims and models used. An article in the NBER Reporter earlier this year summarizes the debate:

The rise in exports from China has been one of the most significant events in international trade in recent decades. This trend has accelerated since that country’s entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001. Even before that date, by a vote of the U.S. Congress China received the low-tariff, most-favored-nation status associated with WTO membership each year. But with WTO membership, Chinese firms experienced a reduction in the uncertainty associated with the outcome of that vote. This contributed importantly to the surge in exports to the United States, according to studies by Justin Pierce and Peter Schott and by Kyle Handley and Nuno Limão; their hypothesis is supported by empirical work by Ling Feng, Zhiyuan Li, and Deborah Swenson. Pierce and Schott observe that the surge in Chinese exports to the United States coincides with a substantial decline in U.S. manufacturing employment. Handley and Limão find that the welfare gain for consumers due to this increase in Chinese imports is of the same order of magnitude as the U.S. gain from new imports in the preceding decade. These initial findings highlight the dual role that Chinese imports play for the United States: on the one hand, they create import competition with associated labor-market dislocation; on the other, they benefit U.S. consumers.

The first of these roles is explored in a series of papers by David Autor, David Dorn, and Gordon Hanson. They analyze the impact of Chinese import competition between 1990 and 2007 on local U.S. labor markets, exploiting geographic differences in import exposure that are due to initial differences in industry specialization. Higher exposure increases unemployment, lowers labor force participation, and reduces wages…At the aggregate level, a conservative estimate is that the import surge accounts for one-quarter of the decline in U.S. manufacturing employment. The regional concentration in the decline in manufacturing employment is inconsistent with some alternative explanations of this phenomenon, notably the possibility of a systemic technology shock. The trade effects on unemployment are confirmed by examining worker-level evidence. Most recently, in joint work with Daron Acemoglu and Brendan Price, these authors find that the import surge from China also contributed to unusually slow employment growth in the United States following the global financial crisis and the Great Recession.

While these papers have explored the impact of import competition from China, they do not incorporate the consumer gains or the export opportunities created by expanded Chinese exports. The first attempt to put the surge in Chinese exports into a general equilibrium context is that of Lorenzo Caliendo, Maximiliano Dvorkin, and Fernando Parro. Their computable general equilibrium model incorporates labor mobility frictions and dislocation costs. They find that growing Chinese import competition resulted in a 0.6 percentage point reduction in manufacturing’s share of total employment, or approximately one million jobs lost, which is about 60 percent of the change in manufacturing employment not explained by a secular trend. At the same time, the China shock increased U.S. welfare by 0.2 percent in the short run and 6.7 percent in the long run, with very heterogeneous effects across labor markets. Despite the fact that employment impacts and labor market dislocation are much stronger in some areas, the consumer gains and export opportunities mean that nearly all regions experience net benefits from rising Chinese imports.

While there may be certain steps we can take to diminish the temporary blow to some American workers, we should not lose sight of the fact that trade is a net benefit to Americans and particularly the poor.

Racial Bias & Policing: A Rundown of the Data

With protests in Charlotte and the shooter of Terence Crutcher in Tulsa being charged with manslaughter, the question of systemic racism and #BlackLivesMatter has risen again. The following is meant to be a helpful list of relevant data regarding the current state of police force and racial bias:

  • The Rarity of Force: According to the U.S. Department of Justice, it is “[k]nown with substantial confidence…that police use force infrequently. The data indicate that a small percentage of police-public encounters involve force. For example, about 1 percent of people who had face-to-face contacts with police said that officers used or threatened force, according to preliminary estimates based on the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ 1996 pretest of its Police-Public Contact Survey…In 7,512 adult custody arrests, another study…notes that fewer than one out of five arrests involved police use of physical force (defined as use of any weapon, use of any weaponless tactic, or use of severe restraints). That can be considered a low rate in view of the study’s broad definition of force” (pg. vii). By highlighting this first, “the intention is neither to minimize the problem nor to suggest that the issue can be dismissed as unworthy of serious attention. Society’s ends are best achieved peaceably, and we should strive to minimize the use of force by police as much as possible. However, it is important to put police use of force in context in order to understand the potential magnitude of use-of-force problems. Although estimates may not completely reassure everyone that police are doing everything they can to minimize the use of force, the data do not support the notion that we have a national epidemic of police violence” (pg. 3). In summary, the vast majority of civilian/police interactions involve no violence whatsoever.
  • Increase in Police Shootings: However, the above study was done in 1999. Both private and federal data since then suggest that the use of lethal force by police is increasing (see the graph below). Nonetheless, even with upticks in killings by police, the use of lethal force would still be exceedingly rare.

  • Lack of Prosecution: Very few officers have been prosecuted for fatal shootings since 2005 according to a 2015 analysis by The Washington Post. This could very well be for good reasons, but the point is that it is rare for an officer to face prosecution.
  • Police Officers Are Safer: Murders, assaults, and shootings of police officers have thankfully declined over the last few decades (for example, see the graph on assaults and injuries below). We should want to keep it that way.

  • Unreliable Data: Unfortunately, the data on use of force by police aren’t very helpful. Reporting on a 2013 survey conducted by the Justice Department, The New York Times stated, “But when the data was issued…the figures turned out to be almost useless. Nearly all departments said they kept track of their shootings, but in accounting for all uses of force, the figures varied widely. Some cities included episodes in which officers punched suspects or threw them to the ground. Others did not. Some counted the use of less lethal weapons, such as beanbag guns. Others did not. And many departments, including large ones such as those in New York, Houston, Baltimore and Detroit, either said they did not know how many times their officers had used force or simply refused to say. That made any meaningful analysis of the data impossible.” USA Today found similar problems. For example, University of Nebraska criminologist Samuel Walker said that the uptick in police shootings could simply be due to more departments reporting. The Washington Post‘s Radley Balko summarizes, “The point is, it’s nearly impossible to know all the details behind all of these shootings. We have to rely on reports filed by the officers themselves. We know more details about these particular cases because an attorney or a journalist took the time to investigate, file open records requests, and look beyond the police reports and press accounts (which, less face it, too often are too reliant on the police reports).”
  • Individual Racism: Rhetoric from critics of police sometimes gives the impression that police shootings of blacks stem from individual racism. According to a 2015 survey, 12.2% of all U.S. local police officers are black. Interestingly enough, one study found that black officers are 3.3 times more likely to discharge their weapon than white officers on the scene of the same incident. A 2015 study of the Philadelphia Police Department by the U.S. Justice Department found that black officers had a threat perception failure (TPF)[ref]”TPFs are what the law enforcement community commonly refers to as “mistake of fact” shootings. They occur when an officer perceives that a suspect is armed due to the misidentification of a nonthreatening object (e.g., a cell phone) or movement (e.g., tugging at the waistband)” (pg. 30).[/ref] rate of 11.4% with black suspects, while white officers’ TPF rate was only 6.8% with black suspects (see pg. 32). A Washington State University study found that “[p]articipants were…more likely to shoot unarmed white suspects than black or Hispanic ones and more likely to fail to fire at armed black suspects. “In other words,” wrote [Lois] James and her co-authors, “there was significant bias favoring blacks where decisions to shoot were concerned.” When confronted by an armed white person, participants took an average of 1.37 seconds to fire back. Confronted by an armed black person, they took 1.61 seconds to fire and were less likely to fire in error. The 240-millisecond difference may seem small, but it’s enough to be fatal in a shooting.” The reason may be “rooted in people’s concerns about the social and legal consequences of shooting a member of a historically oppressed racial or ethnic group.” The case for individual racism in a general sense is hard to make.
  • Systemic Racism: However, criticism from groups like Black Lives Matter and others are not so much focused on individual racism as they are on systemic racism. The claim is not that cops are individually racist (“some of those that work forces are the same that burn crosses“), but that the system in which they operate is biased against vulnerable black communities. For example, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Ohio State University law professor Michelle Alexander details how the War on Drugs disparately impacts black and poor communities more than white and prosperous ones. Blacks are far more likely to be charged with and convicted of drug crimes, yet blacks use drugs at roughly the same rates as whites while being less likely to sell. While this doesn’t address violent crimes–of which blacks commit a disproportionate amount–it’s worth noting that drug crimes “have been the predominant reason for new admissions into state and federal prisons in recent decades.” Nathaniel has an excellent review here, which covers the book’s claims regarding racially-disparate stops, arrests, convictions, and consequences that come with the scarlet-F of a felony conviction.
  • Black-on-Black Crime: This is a largely irrelevant talking point. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 93% of black murder victims were killed by other blacks between 1980 and 2008. Similarly, 84% of white murder victims were killed by other whites (pg. 13; see graph below). In other words, most violent crime is intraracial. Furthermore, the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that–between 2008 and 2012–those “in poor households at or below the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) (39.8 per 1,000) had more than double the rate of violent victimization as persons in high-income households (16.9 per 1,000).” It turns out that “[p]oor urban blacks (51.3 per 1,000) had rates of violence similar to poor urban whites (56.4 per 1,000).” Between 2007 and 2011, the black poverty rate was 25.8 percent, while the white poverty rate was 11.6 percent. In short, poor whites and blacks commit violent crimes at about the same rate. There are just more poor blacks than poor whites. And considering that there is strong empirical support for poverty as a predictor of crime, lifting communities out of poverty may be one of the best crime prevention programs.

Image result for Homicides, by race of offender and victim, 1980–2008

  • Stops, Searches, Arrests: Numerous studies find that blacks are stopped and searched at far higher rates than whites. A July 2016 report on police practices in San Francisco found that statistics “suggest there are racial disparities regarding SFPD stops, searches, and arrests, particularly for Black people.” Black adults were 7 times more likely to be arrested than whites along with having higher rates of searches without consent after stops and lower hit rates (i.e., rate at which searches turn up contraband). The Justice Department’s 2015 investigation into Ferguson police behavior found that “African Americans are more than twice as likely as white drivers to be searched during vehicle stops even after controlling for non-race based variables such as the reason the vehicle stop was initiated, but are found in possession of contraband 26% less often than white drivers, suggesting officers are impermissibly considering race as a factor when determining whether to search” (pg. 4).[ref]See Radley Balko’s incredible article on the predatory practices of St. Louis’ municipalities for more.[/ref] A 2016 study of Chicago PD found that “black and Hispanic drivers were searched approximately four times as often as white drivers, yet CPD’s own data show that contraband was found on white drivers twice as often as black and Hispanic drivers” (pg. 9). A 2014 ACLU analysis of Illinois Department of Transportation data found that “African American and Latino drivers are nearly twice as likely as white drivers to be asked during a routine traffic stop for ‘consent’ to have their car searched. Yet white motorists are 49% more likely than African American motorists to have contraband discovered during a consent search by law enforcement, and 56% more likely when compared to Latinos.” A New York Times analysis found that officers in Greensboro, N.C. were “were more likely to stop black drivers for no discernible reason. And they were more likely to use force if the driver was black, even when they did not encounter physical resistance.” A 2016 Justice Department investigation of Baltimore PD found that “BPD engages in a pattern or practice of making stops, searches, and arrests in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments and Section 14141. BPD frequently makes investigative stops without reasonable suspicion of people who are lawfully present on Baltimore streets. During stops, officers commonly conduct weapons frisks—or more invasive searches— despite lacking reasonable suspicion that the subject of the search is armed. These practices escalate street encounters and contribute to officers making arrests without probable cause, 36 often for discretionary misdemeanor offenses like disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, loitering, trespassing, and failure to obey” (pg. 24). It also found that “BPD disproportionately stops African Americans standing, walking, or driving on Baltimore streets. The Department’s data on all pedestrian stops from January 2010 to June 2015 shows that African Americans account for 84 percent of stops55 despite comprising only 63 percent of the City’s population. Expressed differently, BPD officers made 520 stops for every 1,000 black residents in Baltimore, but only 180 stops for every 1,000 Caucasian residents. The high rate of stopping African Americans persists across the City, even in districts where African Americans make up a small share of the population. Indeed, the proportion of African-American stops exceeds the share of African-American population in each of BPD’s nine police districts, despite significant variation in the districts’ racial, socioeconomic, and geographic composition” (pg. 48-49). This was true for traffic stops as well: “BPD likewise stops African-American drivers at disproportionate rates. From 2010–2015, African Americans made up 82 percent of people stopped by BPD officers for traffic violations, compared to only 60 percent of the City’s driving age population. As with pedestrian stops, BPD stopped a higher rate of African American drivers in each of the City’s districts, despite large differences in those districts’ demographic profiles and traffic patterns. For example, African Americans accounted for 80 percent of vehicle stops in the Northern District despite making up only 41 percent of the district’s population, and made up 56 percent of stops in the Southeast District compared to only 23 percent of the population living there” (pg. 52). And yet, BPD hit rate data “suggests that officers’ search decisions are biased against African Americans. Indeed, BPD’s data on all stops from 2010–2015 shows that searches of African Americans have significantly lower hit rates than other searches. During vehicle stops, BPD officers reported finding some type of contraband less than half as often when searching African Americans—in only 3.9 percent of searches of African Americans, compared to 8.5 percent of other searches” (pg. 53). A 2011 Justice Department report found, in 2008, that whites, blacks, and Hispanics were stopped at about the same rate, yet blacks were searched about 3 times more than whites (pg. 10). A 2016 study of North Carolina’s database found “that black drivers (men and women) are 75% more likely to be searched than whites, 5% less likely to be ticketed, and 43% more likely to be arrested…In 2002, black men were 70% more likely to be searched than whites and this disparity has grown steadily over the period of study. Beginning in 2007, black men were twice as likely to be searched and by 2013 this difference had grown to over 140%. Black men are also more likely to be arrested; however, this disparity has remained stable at about a 60% increased likelihood. We also see that black men are marginally less likely to receive citations and there is almost no variance; NC police are highly consistent over time in their relative treatment of whites and black men when it comes to ticketing…Compared to white men, black men are more likely to be searched and arrested for every type of stop, with the exception of driving while impaired” (pg. 10). According to the database, “[i]n 2002, officers were almost 125% more likely to search black men than white men using a probable cause search. By 2013, officers were almost 250% more likely to use probable cause as a justification for searching blacks – essentially doubling the disparity in the use of probable cause searches. Tracking the contraband hit rate associated with this type of search reveals that officers’ suspicions of wrongdoing have always been less accurate when engaging with black motorists; officers consistently find contraband on black males at modestly lower rates than white males. So the increased reliance on probable cause to search blacks is not associated with more accurate assessments of the likelihood of blacks engaging in criminal behavior. And the increased racial disparities in probable cause searches over time appear to be unjustified in terms of any increased likelihood of finding contraband” (pg. 13).
  • Driving Patterns and Traffic Violations: Are there alternative reasons for these stops besides racial bias and is there any evidence for them? The National Institute of Justice finds three potential reasons that blacks are pulled over at higher rates based on various studies: (1) “The representation of minority drivers among those stopped could differ greatly from their representation in the residential census. Naturally those driving on the road, particularly major thoroughfares, could differ from those who live in the neighborhood”; (2) “If minority drivers tend to drive in communities where there are more police patrols then the police will be more likely to notice any infractions the black drivers commit”; (3) Seatbelt usage is chronically lower among black drivers. If a law enforcement agency aggressively enforces seatbelt violations, police will stop more black drivers.” As a Washington Post article concludes, “Ethics aside, this is where the research leaves us: Black drivers certainly get more face-time with traffic cops. But to what extent that reflects discrimination, and whether that discrimination is based in racial prejudice, is more of an open question.”
  • Unarmed Shootings: A 2015 study found “the median probability across counties of being {black, unarmed, and shot by police} is 3.49 (PCI95: 1.77, 6.04) times the probability of being {white, unarmed, and shot by police}.” However, some are hesitant to declare racial bias due to the amount of violent crimes in black communities. Blacks are more likely to be stopped and therefore more likely to end up in a violent conflict with police due to heavier policing of these crime-ridden areas. Yet, the evidence seems to be against this line of reasoning. The study found “no evidence of an association between black-specific crime rates (neither in assault-related arrests nor in weapons-related arrests) and racial bias in police shootings, irrespective of whether or not other controls were included in the model. As such, the results of this study provide no empirical support for the idea that racial bias in police shootings (in the time period, 2011–2014, described in this study) is driven by race-specific crime rates (at least as measured by the proxies of assault- and weapons-related arrest rates in 2012).” Similarly, another 2015 analysis found that the levels of violent crime in US cities had no correlation with that area’s police killing rates. However, just because one is unarmed does not make one a non-threat or the intended target. Some unarmed shooting victims attempt to wrestle the officer’s gun away from them, while others are unfortunate and unintended collateral damage (e.g., caught in crossfire). How threatening blacks are–armed or unarmed–is one variable controlled for in a new study analyzing The Washington Post‘s 2015 database. The study “used multivariate regression models to determine whether the findings were attributable to race or another factor and found that, among the 990 civilians fatally shot[ref]It must be noted that non-fatal shootings were excluded from the analysis.[/ref] by the police last year, black civilians were more than twice as likely as white civilians to have been unarmed. This was true after controlling for threat level, the age and gender of the civilian, signs of mental illness, region of the United States, crime rate according to 2012 UCR data, size of the agency involved, and whether or not the agency operates its own basic training academy. In fact, the only other variable that was significant was, not surprisingly, threat level (meaning civilians in the “attack” category were far less likely to have been unarmed). In regards to the relationship between race and threat level, the data indicate that black civilians were not significantly more or less likely to have been attacking the police officer(s) or others than white civilians. However, Hispanic or Latino civilians and civilians from other minority groups were much less likely to have been attacking the police officers or others than white civilians. Again, these results held up after controlling for the influence of each of the other variables” (italics mine). However, it is paramount to note that the study found that the “majority of civilians shot and killed by the police in 2015 were male (96 percent), armed with a deadly weapon (82 percent), and attacking police officers or others (74 percent). Half of the civilians were white (50 percent). About one out of every four civilians fatally shot by police displayed signs of mental illness.” While bias in shootings is an extremely important issue and should be investigated, it is absolutely essential to remember that the majority of police shootings are due to legitimate threats. These are the kinds of incidents that provoke the #BlueLivesMatter counter. It is also worth acknowledging Harvard economist Roland Fryer’s recent study, which found no racial bias in police shootings across 10 major police departments in Texas, California, and Florida (check out The New York Times write-up and follow-up). However, there have been significant criticisms of Fryer’s study.
  • Non-Lethal Force: Yet, Fryer’s study also found that officers were far more likely to use non-lethal force on blacks than whites, including hands on civilians (e.g., slapping or grabbing), pushing into a wall, use of handcuffs, drawing weapons, pushing to the ground, pointing weapon, pepper spraying, and striking with a baton (see graph below). A July 2016 study found that the mean rate of use-of-force incidents “for Black residents was 273 per 100,000, which is 2.5 times as high as the overall rate and 3.6 times as high as the rate for White residents (76 per 100,000)” (pg. 15). It also concluded “that crime rates are an insufficient explanation for disparities in the application of police force” (pg. 18).

This material doesn’t even get into post-arrest injustices like harsher sentences for blacks or historical issues like redlining, but I think this list is a good starter. As you wade into the controversies and debates, try to be as accurate as possible. Know the numbers. Be rigorous. Be willing to admit it when the evidence doesn’t favor “your side.” Most of all, be charitable towards one another. These are people’s lives, both black and blue. We want a system that is just and serves all members of society fairly. And we want officers coming home safely to their families at the end of the day.

Image result for free hugs police

Protest Votes Exist

There's a reason for using a pic of an iceberg that you'll see below. But if it made you think of the Titanic well, this election year, that fits, too. (Photo by AWeith, CC BY-SA 4.0)
There’s a reason for using a pic of an iceberg that you’ll see below. But if it made you think of the Titanic well, this election year, that fits, too. (Photo by AWeith, CC BY-SA 4.0)

A Facebook friend shared a link to Clay Shirky’s Medium post (There’s No Such Thing As A Protest Vote) and tagged me. I had thoughts, and so I thought I’d share them.

I’m not sure if Shirky’s slapshot case is meant as a serious argument or merely a pretext for a rant. This paragraph, which comes towards the end when the tone shifts abruptly from reasoned to strident, highlights my confusion:[ref]Never go full rant[/ref]

Throwing away your vote on a message no one will hear, and which will change no outcome, is sometimes presented as ‘voting your conscience’, but that’s got it exactly backwards; your conscience is what keeps you from doing things that feel good to you but hurt other people. Citizens who vote for third-party candidates, write-in candidates, or nobody aren’t voting their conscience, they are voting their ego, unable to accept that a system they find personally disheartening actually applies to them.

Nevertheless, the first 1,000 words present a case, and so we’ll take it on the merits. But first, let us simply observe that accusations of disloyalty are Plan A when it comes to browbeating recalcitrant idealists into conformity.That’s not to say there’s never truth to the idea that we should sometimes put our personal preferences aside for the sake of a group’s welfare. It is to say that deploying the exact logic under which despotic regimes have justified silencing voices of protest throughout history ought to be treated as a red flag. Besides which, there’s a big difference between issues of personal taste and issues of conscience. That’s something we’ll return to in the end.

Shirky’s argument about protest votes boil down to two claims. First, it’s a “message no one will hear” and second, it “will change no outcome.” Both these claims are false.

When it comes to “no one will hear,” Shirky argues that since it doesn’t change the outcome of the vote, not voting and voting for a third-party candidate are equivalent. His argument seems to be that, since we can’t guess why a voter would pick Gary Johnson or Jill Stein or to abstain altogether, no information is transmitted. But if no information is transmitted, then we ought to be able to say absolutely nothing whatsoever about the differences in political preference between a group of Gary Johnson voters, a group of Jill Stein voters, and a group of non-voters. But we can infer all kinds of things about the preferences of these groups from the votes they cast. What’s more, if we can’t derive why they voted from the who they voted for, then that applies to voters who pick Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump as well. If we can’t say anything about third-party voters or non-voters based on their votes (or lack thereof), then we can’t say anything about anybody based on voting behavior.

On the other hand, maybe Shirky isn’t saying that it’s impossible to derive the why from the who, but just that nobody will take the trouble to do the derivation: “But it doesn’t matter what message you think you are sending, because no one will receive it. No one is listening.” This approach doesn’t fly either. As Shirky points out, in a parliamentary system the coalition-building happens after the votes are cast when various small, relatively ideologically pure parties have to form a coalition to govern. In a 2-party, winner-take-all system the coalition-building happens before the votes are cast, with the Republican and Democratic parties pulling together various constituencies to form coalitions. But how does he think that this happens if the respective parties don’t pay very careful attention to what they can infer about voters from every source available, including third-party votes? It is emphatically not the case that “no one is listening.” We have an entire industry of pollsters, analysts, and consultants who make a living by listening to the signals that voters send, and a protest vote is a pretty clear signal.

It’s easy to see how the argument that protest votes “will change no outcome,” falls immediately after the argument that they are a “message no one will hear.” The Democratic and Republican parties are not going to spend millions and millions of dollars every year on small armies of pollsters, analysts, and consultants to infer voter preferences for the purpose of crafting their coalition and then just ignore the results.

If literally the only thing that you are willing to consider is the result of one, particular election then–and only then–does it make sense to say that protest votes are indistinguishable from non-voting and therefore don’t exist. But pretending those future elections don’t exist doesn’t actually mean that they don’t.


If you want to change the behavior of one of the two major parties, then the best way to do it is not to stay home, but rather to vote for someone else. If you would like to change one of the two major parties to be more like the other one, than by all means switch from R to D or from D to R. In that case, protest votes don’t enter into it. But if you wan to move either (or both) of the major parties in a direction neither is amenable to, then the best and clearest way to send that signal is through a third party.

Of course, there is a cost associated with that. The protest vote is going to have no impact on today’s election and only a possible impact on future elections. And so the most reasonable theory of protest voting is to attempt to weigh the benefit of sending a corrective signal for the future against the cost of not influencing an election in the present. This is a very, very difficult calculation to make and the stakes are high. That is why reasonable people can come to differing conclusions, even when their political views are quite similar.

Notably, however, the simplest and most straight-forward explanation of protest voting is omitted from Shirky’s piece, which posits only three options: boycott, defection, or “step to third-party victory.” Each of these options has some validity to it, but none of them are as potent or as simple as the one given here. Most tellingly: none of them incorporate Shirky’s own analysis of the incentives of coalition-building in a 2-party system. Defection is closest to what I have in mind, but Shirky explains it only in terms of simplistic: “voters believe they can force a loss on either the Democrats or the Republicans, and thus make that party adopt their preferred policies, rather than face another such loss in the future.”

It is neither necessary nor possible for protest votes to “force a loss.” It is not possible for the simple reason that–like any complex event–there is never one, singular explanation for the outcome of a vote. It is not necessary because the two major parties are in constant competition with each other to build the bigger coalition. Protest voters do not need to threaten or coerce them–although that might help–but only to clearly communicate what they want.

One major thing to keep in mind: the entire point of having an election is that we don’t know ahead of time what people want. If we had perfect knowledge of preferences, we wouldn’t need to vote.[ref]We would still need a system for integrating those preferences into laws and policies and government actions, but that doesn’t require elections.[/ref] Ergo, the parties don’t actually know–with perfect precision–what constituencies exist out there and how best to appeal to them. Protest votes are an extreme form of conveying that information, and that is a much lower bar than the idea of having to “force a loss.”

Finally, the reactions to protest vote are going to be subtle, temporally distant, and often intentionally muted. They will be subtle because a major party is a coalition: a delicate balance of overlapping constituencies. They do not, with rare and historical exceptions, make abrupt changes in any direction because it threatens the cohesiveness of the overall balance. They will be temporally distant because the very earliest that a party can visibly react is the next election, a minimum of two years away, and in practical terms the lag will be even greater.[ref]It’s not like parties have the power to arbitrarily swap out candidates on a whim based on the most up-to-date information.[/ref] And they will often be intentionally muted because part of the narrative every party tries to present is that it’s always been right, and so changes–especially in reaction to third-party protest votes–will be deliberately downplayed in front of most audiences.

But the fact that the impact of protest votes is not easy to spot doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. To believe that, you’d have to believe either that protest votes convey no useful information about voter preferences or that Democrats and Republicans ignore useful information about voter preferences, neither of which is tenable.

Shirky’s argument is very hard to take seriously on its merits, since it requires us to ignore obviously relevant factors (like future elections) and accept flagrantly false premises (like the idea that protest votes either convey no useful information or that major political parties don’t care about that information). However, it does provide an approximately thousand-word pretext for the real payload of this article, which consists of claims like these:

  1. Advocates of wasted votes don’t bring up this record of universal failure, because their votes aren’t about changing political results. They’re about salving wounded pride.
  2. Citizens who vote for third-party candidates, write-in candidates, or nobody aren’t voting their conscience, they are voting their ego…
  3. The people advocating protest votes believe they deserve a choice that aligns closely with their political preferences.

This makes this whole piece an example of bulverism, a coin terms by C. S. Lewis.

You must show that a man is wrong before you start explaining why he is wrong. The modern method is to assume without discussion that he is wrong and then distract his attention from this (the only real issue) by busily explaining how he became so silly.[ref]I got the quote from Wikipedia, which has the original source.[/ref]

Another explanation of how bulverism works shows how it relates in this case:

Suppose I think, after doing my accounts, that I have a large balance at the bank. And suppose you want to find out whether this belief of mine is “wishful thinking.” You can never come to any conclusion by examining my psychological condition. Your only chance of finding out is to sit down and work through the sum yourself. When you have checked my figures, then, and then only, will you know whether I have that balance or not. If you find my arithmetic correct, then no amount of vapouring about my psychological condition can be anything but a waste of time. If you find my arithmetic wrong, then it may be relevant to explain psychologically how I came to be so bad at my arithmetic, and the doctrine of the concealed wish will become relevant — but only after you have yourself done the sum and discovered me to be wrong on purely arithmetical grounds. It is the same with all thinking and all systems of thought. If you try to find out which are tainted by speculating about the wishes of the thinkers, you are merely making a fool of yourself. You must first find out on purely logical grounds which of them do, in fact, break down as arguments. Afterwards, if you like, go on and discover the psychological causes of the error.[ref]Again, my immediate source is Wikipedia.[/ref]

I’ve also seen this general tactic referred to as “the heuristic of suspicion.” The general idea is that we give very short shrift to what our opponents actually think–to the objective case they are making–and instead rush quickly past it to psychological analysis that takes their error for granted and indulges in self-satisfied dissection of their inferiority. I’m not saying we can indulge in zero time spent on analyzing the motives or intentions of our interlocutors, but I do think we should try to shift the balance onto the arguments at hand and take them seriously. And, on that basis, Shirky’s argument that protest votes are indistinguishable from non-voting, simply do not hold up to any level of scrutiny.

Now, at the very end, I want to return to the first comment I made about personal taste and conscience. Here is the beginning of Shirky’s concluding paragraph:

None of this creates an obligation to vote, or to vote for one of the two viable candidates. It is, famously, a free country, and you can vote for anyone you like, or for no one.

If Shirky really believes that there is no obligation to vote for a major party candidate, than his entire essay collapses into nonsense. The whole point–from start to finish–is that protest voters are selfish egotists who are abdicating their duty and “making the rest of us do the work of deciding.” If that isn’t a violation of an obligation, then what on Earth could be?

That fact that we are allowed under the law to behave in a certain way is not the only nor the final word on what our obligations may or may not be. The set of things that are obligatory (in any sense) and the set of things that are legally required are not the same. So–far from celebrating a genuine sense of freedom in which government refrains from attempting to demarcate the boundaries of the permissible–Shirky is engaging in a kind of totalitarian thinking in which what we must do and what the law requires are assumed–despite all common sense–to be identical.

This is not an incidental misstep. It’s integral to Shirky’s case. After all, if a protest vote is really just a matter of personal preference–if I prefer Candidate Alice to Candidate Bob in the same way in which I prefer rocky road to mint chocolate chip or blue to red–then it would be the height or selfishness to become an absolute stickler on that point to the detriment of the group. This is a world of moral relativism, where all moral decisions are reflections of personal preference and can pretend to no greater validity.

It’s not a very coherent world. In it, Shirky first argues that protest votes are immoral because they place one’s personal preferences ahead of the common good. But, in this incoherent world, Shirky has to immediately repudiate his own argument. You are an arrogant, hypocritical egoist if you vote third party! Not that that means you can’t do it, of course. You can do whatever you’d like. Who am I to judge? I’m not saying. I’m just saying. The whole thing collapses into irrelevant, incomprehensible muttering.

But if there is such a thing as an objective moral reality, then when a person refuses to vote the way you’d like them to out of conscience, you can’t simply browbeat them for being selfish. Perhaps they are! But perhaps they are acting out of an earnestly held believe in a universally applicable moral stand, one that does not suddenly become irrelevant or disposable merely because it is unpopular or inconvenient. And so, in this world, the specifics actually matter. In this world, some people who vote third party are irresponsible and selfish and some are responsible and selfless. It’s frustrating that we can’t always line up the good guys and the bad guys based on how they vote. It’s downright dangerous when we try to do so anyway.

Shirky offers a thin pretense of not telling you how to vote, but in fact he not only tells you how to vote, but specifically who to vote for.[ref]Does anyone think for an instant he is voting for Donald Trump?[/ref] His post has a form of non-judgmentalism but denies the power thereof. I’ll do you the courtesy of not pretending to be neutral. Instead, I’ll just go ahead and tell you what I think you should do without any caveats or qualifications: you should vote, and you should vote informed, and you should vote your conscience. Consider the costs and the benefits of voting for one of the two candidates who will almost certainly win vs. the costs and benefits of voting for a candidate who will almost certainly not win. Take it it seriously, do your homework, and if you’re religious pray for guidance. Then vote accordingly.

And hey, if you’re looking for a silver lining during this awful election, here’s one. In the past, I always felt that there was a clear-cut candidate that should win. There was always a little strain and tension when family or close friends felt the same, but about the other guy. This year, I don’t have that strain. It’s all a mess, and I can see compelling cases for voting in a lot of different ways. I have people I respect voting for Clinton, voting for Trump, voting for Johnson, and voting for McMullin.[ref]No one I know is voting for Stein, that I’m aware of.[/ref] And–for the first time–I actually have absolutely zero reservations about their voting differently than I am. Not to say I agree with all of them–I don’t! I can’t!–but I can see where they are coming from. So that, at least, is a nice side-effect of this ongoing train wreck.


Guidelines for Voting

First 1960 Presidential Debate. (Wikimedia commons)
First 1960 Presidential Debate. (Wikimedia commons)

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey.

The first talk of the first session of the April 1974 session was Guidelines to Carry Forth the Work of God in Cleanliness by President Spencer W. Kimball, and it had some interesting counsel, given that last night I was up later than I would have liked to be in order to watch the first presidential debate. President Kimball “reaffirm[ed] some vital members which concern us.”

One is our civil obligations. We are approaching election time, when we must choose again those persons who will represent us in positions of responsibility in our civil government—federal, state, and local.

I had to look up the 1974 elections. It was a midterm year, following just a few months after President Nixon’s resignation. What struck me the most about the counsel that followed, was how it called on us to be active participants in our nation’s politics. President Kimball quoted the twelfth article of faith:

We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.[ref]Emphasis added.[/ref]

Then he cited from the 1835 “Declaration of Believe regarding Governments and Laws in general,”

We believe that all governments necessarily require civil officers and magistrates to enforce the laws of the same; and that such as will administer the law in equity and justice should be sought for and upheld by the voice of the people if a republic, or the will of the sovereign. [ref]Emphasis added.[/ref]

And then a 1951 First Presidency Statement:

A threat to our unity derives from unseemly personal antagonisms developed in partisan political controversy. The Church, while reserving the right to advocate principles of good government underlying equity, justice, and liberty, the political integrity of officials, and the active participation of its members, and the fulfillment of their obligations in civic affairs, exercises no constraint on the freedom of individuals to make their own choices and affiliations … any man who makes representation to the contrary does so without authority and justification in fact. [ref]Emphasis added.[/ref]

Of course, in addition to the call to active participation in politics, there were two more things that stuck out to me. First: the emphasis on the moral caliber of our representatives. (That’s not as clear in these quotes, but it’s a consistent theme.) Second: the concern about “partisan political controversy.”

People have to make up their minds how to vote this year as in all years, and I’m not going to try and sway anyone directly. I just wanted to remind people of those three basic facts:

  1. Mormons have an obligation to actively participate.
  2. We should support representatives of high moral caliber.
  3. We should avoid “partisan political controversy.”

And, as a final thought, in the end I think it matters a lot less who we vote for than why. And that is because the fabric of society—the individual lives of citizens and their relationships with each other that is based on personal values and culture—will always be more important for the fate of a nation than the particular legal system or leadership that it happens to have at any point in time. Laws can be reformed or changed with a pen stroke. Society goes deeper, is harder to corrupt when it is healthy, and harder to heal when it is broken.

Check out the other posts from the General Conference Odyssey this week and join our Facebook group to follow along!

The Basics of Syria’s War

There’s an excellent write-up in The New York Times titled “Straightforward Answers to Basic Questions About Syria’s War.” Foreign policy is not my strong suit and so articles like this are extremely helpful. The questions answered include:

  • Who is the Syrian civil war?
  • How did the war happen?
  • Which countries are involved?
  • Why is the war so bloody?
  • Why is it divided by religion?
  • How did the Islamic State form?
  • Why is the refugee crisis so large?

Check it out. It goes nicely with Vox‘s video below.

Don’t Trust Your Gut

Image result for empathy gifWhat works better when it comes to interpersonal relationships and inferring the feelings of others: trusting your intuition (your gut) or being systematic (facts and reason)? A new study suggests the latter. From the abstract:

To determine which view is supported by the evidence, we conducted 4 studies examining relations between mode of thought (intuitive vs. systematic) and empathic accuracy. Study 1 revealed a lay belief that empathic accuracy arises from intuitive modes of thought. Studies 2 through 4, each using executive-level professionals as participants, demonstrated that, contrary to lay beliefs, people who tend to rely on intuitive thinking also tend to exhibit lower empathic accuracy. This pattern held when participants inferred others’ emotional states based on (a) in-person face-to-face interactions with partners (Study 2) as well as on (b) pictures with limited facial cues (Study 3). Study 4 confirmed that the relationship is causal: experimentally inducing systematic (as opposed to intuitive) thought led to improved empathic accuracy. In sum, evidence regarding personal and social processes in these 4 samples of working professionals converges on the conclusion that, contrary to lay beliefs, empathic accuracy arises more from systematic thought than from gut intuition.

Yale psychologist Paul Bloom has actually argued against empathy in favor of a more distanced compassion.[ref]His book Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion will be out later this year.[/ref] Bloom argues that empathy causes us to focus attention on suffering at the cost of the bigger picture, leading to harmful policies and outcomes (including an increased capacity for violence and aggression). The study above seems to indicate that a more distanced compassion–one that is a bit more cold and calculated–may be the answer to achieving the intended goals of empathy.


Think of the Children: Teacher Collective Bargaining

Cornell’s Michael Lovenheim and Alexander Willen had an article earlier this year in the journal Education Next discussing their research regarding teacher collective bargaining. “In this study,” they write,

we present the first evidence on how laws that support teacher collective bargaining affect students’ employment and earnings in adulthood. We do so by first examining how the outcomes of students educated in a given state changed after the state enacted a duty-to-bargain law, and then comparing those changes to what happened over the same time period in states that did not change their collective-bargaining policies.

We find no clear effects of collective-bargaining laws on how much schooling students ultimately complete. But our results show that laws requiring school districts to engage in collective bargaining with teachers unions lead students to be less successful in the labor market in adulthood. Students who spent all 12 years of grade school in a state with a duty-to-bargain law earned an average of $795 less per year and worked half an hour less per week as adults than students who were not exposed to collective-bargaining laws. They are 0.9 percentage points less likely to be employed and 0.8 percentage points less likely to be in the labor force. And those with jobs tend to work in lower-skilled occupations.

Lovenheim and Willen explain how states–beginning with Wisconsin in 1959–began passing “union-friendly legislation.” “Between 1959 and 1987, 33 states passed duty-to-bargain laws (see Figure 1); just 1 (New Mexico) has done so since. Of the 16 states without such a law, 9 have legislation that permits teachers unions and districts to bargain if both sides agree to do so. In the remaining 7 states (Arizona, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia), collective bargaining is prohibited either by statute or by court ruling[.]”

The debate over teacher collective bargaining is heated, which makes empirical evidence all the more important. The researchers found that teacher collective bargaining has several adverse long-term effects on children:

  • Earnings: “Attending school in a state with a duty-to-bargain law for all 12 years of schooling reduces later earnings by $795 dollars per year…This represents a decline in earnings of 1.9 percent relative to the average. Although the individual effect is modest, it translates into a large overall loss of earnings for the nation as a whole. In particular, our results suggest a total loss of $196 billion per year accruing to those who were educated in the 34 states with duty-to-bargain policies on the books.”
  • Hours worked: “exposure to a duty-to-bargain law throughout one’s school years is associated with a decline of 0.49 hours worked per week. This is a 1.4 percent decline relative to the average, and it suggests that a reduction in hours worked is a main driver of the lower earnings.”
  • Wages: “the evidence suggests a negative relationship between collective-bargaining exposure and wages. While this relationship is not statistically significant, it is consistent with our other results and suggests that teacher collective bargaining may also have a modest adverse effect on average wages.”
  • Employment: “when we use the share of individuals who are employed as the outcome variable, we find that duty-to-bargain laws reduce employment. Specifically, exposure to a duty-to-bargain law for all 12 years of schooling lowers the likelihood that a worker is employed by 0.9 percentage points.”
  • Occupational skill level: “being exposed to a duty-to-bargain law for all 12 years of schooling decreases the proportion of such workers in an occupation by almost half of a percentage point (or 0.6 percent relative to the average). This effect is modest in size, but it implies that teacher collective bargaining leads students to work in occupations requiring lower levels of skill.”
  • Educational attainment: “The reduced earnings and labor force participation associated with teacher collective bargaining raise the possibility that affected students may have completed less education. Our analysis, however, finds little evidence of bargaining power having a significant effect on how much schooling students completed…Even if students do not complete fewer years of education, they may be acquiring fewer skills while they are in school.”

The authors note that “in 2011 Wisconsin passed legislation that greatly reduced the ability of teachers to bargain with school districts…and in 2014 Michigan passed a public employee right-to-work law that sought to limit union negotiating power. Not surprisingly, teachers unions and their allies responded to these laws with fierce opposition.” Yet, the “results suggest that lawmakers in Wisconsin and Michigan have evidence on their side.”

Image result for think of the children gif


Assessing the Presidential Candidates’ Economic Proposals

A brand new study analyzes the economic proposals of both Trump and Clinton and the results aren’t encouraging. As reported by Financial Times,

US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s protectionist trade policies would send the US into recession, result in the loss of almost 4.8m private sector jobs and lead to shortages of consumer goods such as iPhones, according to the most detailed study yet of his plan.

…The study also offers a sceptical view of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s trade policies, and particularly her opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership,[ref]According to a couple new studies, the TPP would increase annual real incomes in the United States by $131 billion and result in net liberalization. And further trade liberalization is a good thing.[/ref] a vast new Pacific Rim trade pact the US has negotiated with Japan and 10 other economies. 

But Mr Trump’s threats to rip up existing US trade agreements and impose punitive 45 per cent tariffs on goods from China and a similar 35 per cent levy on products imported from Mexico would probably set off a trade war and wreak huge damage on the US economy, the study found. 

“While [Mrs] Clinton’s stated trade policy would be harmful, [Mr] Trump’s stated trade policy would be horribly destructive,” said Adam Posen, the institute’s president. “His stated approach to the global economy of waging trade war and protecting uncompetitive special interests would be disastrous for American economic wellbeing and national security.” 

While the “biggest trade-related employment impact…would be in manufacturing and on states such as Washington,” it turns out “the biggest impact on jobs would come as the consequences of a trade war reverberate out across the economy hitting retail distribution hubs, grocery stores, restaurants and even hospitals, the study found. It also would likely lead to shortages and higher prices of consumer goods — including popular products such as smartphones — and potentially even have an impact on US retirement savings.”

That’s exciting.

Image result for we're screwed gif

What are the Chances?: American Deaths via Foreign Terrorists

Image result for skittles trumpWith skittles and terrorists in the news, it might be worth assessing the risks that immigrants pose to U.S. natives. How likely are Americans to be killed by a terrorist attack committed by a foreigner? A new policy analysis from the Cato Institute finds that the chances are vanishingly small:

Including those murdered in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 (9/11), the chance of an American perishing in a terrorist attack on U.S. soil that was committed by a foreigner over the 41-year period studied here is 1 in 3.6 million per year. The hazard posed by foreigners who entered on different visa categories varies considerably. For instance, the chance of an American being murdered in a terrorist attack caused by a refugee is 1 in 3.64 billion per year while the chance of being murdered in an attack committed by an illegal immigrant is an astronomical 1 in 10.9 billion per year. By contrast, the chance of being murdered by a tourist on a B visa, the most common tourist visa, is 1 in 3.9 million per year. Any government response to terrorism must take account of the wide range of hazards posed by foreign-born terrorists who entered under various visa categories.

Given that Americans are as likely to be killed by falling furniture as a terrorist attack, maybe we should ban all new purchases of televisions and couches. Add this to the evidence that immigrants are less criminal than native-born Americans and we end up with nothing more than a fear-mongering blowhard.