Today’s Interesting Reading: Putin, Reparations, Weakness of Compound Interest, and Materiality, oh my.

Russia to ban citizenship change for adopted children

Fyodorov reported that in connection with this fact he and other Russian MPs had prepared a set of amendments to the current adoptions ban that would restrict the transfer of Russian children from adoptees to other families. The MP also proposes a ban on renouncing Russian citizenship for an adopted orphan until the child comes of age.

Russian officials intend to switch the adoption practices so that they are regulated by intergovernmental agreements between Russia and other nations. Presently there are only two such agreements – with Italy and France, and an agreement with Spain is expected to be signed soon. However, adoption in other countries is still allowed, with the exception of the United States and also countries that allow same sex marriage.

Two caveats: I generally do not regularly cite Putin’s Equivalent to Radio Free Europe plus Pravda Russia Today, and I find a lot of the US liberal anger at Russia to be hypocritical. I mean, Saudi Arabia and Brunei get free passes on much harsher laws than Russia. Still, tu quo que is bad thinking and worse politics. The amount of internal press this adoption scare seems particularly counter productive when taken to this level. (I like the way RT drops that “and also countries that allow same sex marriage” as an afternoon. In this great game styles masquerading in cold-war drag, things are bound to get silly. RT is bound to look a lot more like Russia’s Fox News for foreigners.

Public uninformed & skeptical about party system in Russia

In addition, the chief pollster noted that the recent accession of the Crimean Republic into the Russian Federation had shown that all legislators were unanimous on really important issues and this made people question the role of political opposition.

The political reform benefitting smaller parties commenced about three years ago, during Dmitry Medvedev’s presidency. The changes included reducing the minimum number of party members from 40,000 to 500. A minimum requirement on regional branches was also dropped, however parties must be represented in at least half of Russia’s 95 federal regions.

The reform triggered an invigoration in Russian political life – new parties began to appear and old parties that merged into larger movements started to re-register as independent projects.

I wanted to cite RT for this and not some US source which generally is more motivated in coverage. It is interesting, however, that the dominance of Russia Today has made people down that opposition even matters. I suppose that is a lesson for those American moderates who think having everyone vote in unison on pragmatic grounds would give the process more legitimacy.

Denisovans, Neandertals, Archaics as Human Races – Anthropology 1.11

The 2010 discoveries of Denisovans, the 2012 findings of archaic African DNA, and the additional 2012 genetic sequencing of Denisovans–are part of a longer trajectory dating to the discovery of fossil Neandertals. Ever since the fossil Neandertal discoveries in the 19th century, debates have raged about who they were. Were Neandertals direct ancestors to modern humans? A completely different species? Or a sub-species, like a race? And now what should we do with the Denisovans?

In 2012, anthropology can confidently report that Neandertals, Denisovans, and others labelled archaic are in fact an interbreeding part of the modern human lineage. We are the same species. There has been extensive admixture across modern humans for tens of thousands of years, and at least some admixture across several archaic groups. Neandertals, Denisovans, and other archaics may be the best example of a true human race or sub-species. They are also fully part of the human lineage, with almost all contemporary humans showing genetic admixture with archaics in our genetic signatures.

SSC Gives A Graduation Speech

What of the costs of education? What have you lost out on?

Well, first about twenty thousand hours of your youth. That’s okay. You weren’t using that golden time of perfect health and halcyon memories when you had more true capacity for creativity and imagination and happiness than you ever will again anyway. If you hadn’t had your teachers to tell you that you needed to be making a collage showing your feelings about The Scarlet Letter, you probably would have wasted your childhood seeing a world in a grain of sand or Heaven in a wild flower or something dumb like that.

I’m more interested in the financial side of it. At $11,000 average per pupil spending per year times thirteen years plus various preschool and college subsidies, the government spends $155,000 on the kindergarten-through-college education of the average American.

Inspired by a tweet: what if the government had taken this figure (adjusted for inflation) and invested it in the stock market at the moment of your birth? Today when you graduate college, they remove it from the stock market, put it in a low-risk bond, put a certain percent of the interest from that bond into keeping up with inflation, and hand you the rest each year as a basic income guarantee. How much would you have?

And I calculate that the answer would be $15,000 a year, adjusted for interest. We can add the $5,800 basic income guarantee we could already afford onto that for about $20,000 a year, for everyone. Black, white, man, woman, employed, unemployed, abled, disabled, rich, poor. Welcome to the real world, it’s dangerous to go alone, take this. What, you thought we were going to throw you out to sink or swim in a world where if you die you die in real life? Come on, we’re not that cruel.

So when we ask whether your education is worth it, we have to compare what you got – an education that puts you one grade level above the uneducated and which has informed 3.3% of you who Euclid is – to what you could have gotten. 20,000 hours of your youth to play, study, learn to play the violin, whatever. And $20,000 a year, sweat-free.

$20,000 a year isn’t much. The average mid-career salary of an average college graduate is nearly triple that – $55,000. By the numbers your education looks pretty good. But numbers can be deceiving.

Consider the life you have to look forward to, making your $55,000. The exact profession that makes closest to that number is a paralegal, so let’s go with that. You get a job as a paralegal in a prestigious Manhattan law firm. You can’t afford to live in Manhattan, but you scrounge together enough money for a cramped apartment in Brooklyn, which costs you about $2000 a month rent. Every morning you wake up at 7:45, get on the forty-five minute subway ride to Manhattan, and make it to work by your 9:00 AM starting time. Your boss is a kind of nasty lawyer who is himself upset that he can’t pay back his law school debt and yells at you all day. By the time you get back home around 6, you’re too exhausted to do much besides watch some TV. You don’t really have time to meet guys – I’m assuming you’re a woman here, sixty percent of you are, I blame the patriarchy – so you put out a personal ad on Craigslist and after a while find someone you like. You get married after a year; your honeymoon is in Vermont because his company won’t give him enough time off to go any further.

As a teacher and a uni lecturer who has more than one graduate degree, I hate to admit how much I agree with the gist of some of this. It is hyperbole, to be sure. However, one commenter on the site sums up my critique: “The factors that make upper class children smarter before they start schooling are probably the ones that allow unschooling to work where it works. Which is to say, that they wouldnt generalize to lower class parents.” On that note, one may be tempted to see this as a conservative screed, but Scott Alexander’s anti-Reactionary FAQ makes it clear that is not really here his alliance is.

The Case for Reparations: An Intellectual Autopsy

Like Coates, I have thought reparations were a bad idea, and I still do not understand the exact practicality of it. However, Coates’s argument is almost conservative in its spelling out of the damages. No matter what your opinion is on the topic, I suggest you read this article. It is one of the better things the Atlantic, which generally find to be obnoxiously predictable in its politics, has published recently.

Compound Interest Is The Least Powerful Force In The Universe

Slate Star Codex again, and this is one is directly related to the above. Scott Alexander seems to be want to answer: since the Southern states exploited African labor, why are they still so poor.

There are many many complicated moral arguments for and against reparations. Like Klein, I don’t want to get into any of them except the financial aspect of how much modern whites benefit from the lingering effects of slavery, and how much modern blacks are harmed by them.

I want to make one very loose argument and then one based off of empirical research.

The loose argument is that the best way to determine whether modern whites have gained from owning slaves (and I know Klein’s argument takes into account other forms of oppression beyond slavery, but slaves will be a good first approximation) is to see if formerly slave-owning societies are richer than formerly non-slave-owning societies.

The state with the highest percent slaves before the Civil War was South Carolina, with Mississippi number two. Mississippi is the poorest, and South Carolina the fifth poorest of the fifty states today. Except for Virginia, every single state in the former Confederacy is poorer than the US average.

This is somewhat confounded by the high level of poor blacks in these states, but remains true even when you look only at the income of white residents. For example, if Mississippi whites were their own state, they would be 39th out of 50 in terms of per capita income. South Carolingians would do better but still be below the national average. If all states suddenly became all white, Mississippi and South Carolina would drop right back down to the bottom.

So the whites who had the most opportunity to benefit from a supposed ability to earn compound interest on slavery earnings clearly didn’t do that.

While one could make the argument that the gains from slavery left Mississippi and the Deep South to enrich all whites, this seems a bit forced. The US was much less interconnected in those days. And other places that had no connection to slavery still outperform the Deep South: Italian whites, for example, still do comfortably better than whites from most Southern states.

One could always argue that Southerners would be even poorer today if not from all the compound interest they received on their slavery earnings. But Southern poverty is already a bit of a puzzle. To make them too much poorer would require them to descend into levels of squalor totally unknown in any First World country.

I think we should at least look at an alternate hypothesis: people are really really really bad at passing ill-gotten wealth through more than a generation or two.

I suggest reading the entire thing as the major complication to Coates. That said, even if Alexander is right, the moral argument and the practical argument are actually very different. We rarely seem to speak if that is the case.

An area’s level of poverty or wealth may affect the distribution of cancer types

While I thought we knew this, file this under actual evidence. Poor people get sick differently from the rich, and it is not just healthcare that causes the difference. It is the difference in environment.

Subjectivism in the short run, Classical value theory in the long

My instinct here, as should be obvious, is to deploy this as an apologetic cudgel for Marxism against neoclassicism (or, rather, against non-classical neoclassicism, as classical political economy is a special case of neoclassicism in the same way that neoclassicism is a special case of game theory.) But more objectively, the point seems to be that the appropriateness of different price theories (and, hence, ways of conceptualizing market civilization generally) depends upon the term within which you are asking your question.

Beating marginalism with Marxist theories of value may actually be wrong-headed because they describe almost completely different things, particularly when you are dealing with scales of time.

Yong Zhao: Shanghai May Drop Out of PISA, Not Interested in Being #1

Lastly, I have always been fascinated with Shanghai, which tends to do almost as well as Korea and Hong Kong, but has been much more resistant the the kill-drill, cram night school approach to education one sees in most of East Asia. (I have written many times on how this produces good PISA scores–a kin to Finnland’s who does this by almost the opposite approach than South Korea). Apparently Shanghai is considering opting out.


3 thoughts on “Today’s Interesting Reading: Putin, Reparations, Weakness of Compound Interest, and Materiality, oh my.

  1. Here is my comment to the Scott Alexander piece:

    If you’re really serious to see how money gets passed on across generations, you would look at the direct descendents of slave owners. Of course, the Civil War and Reconstruction wiped out a lot of their wealth. Still, I’d suspect that at least some of those descendents of slave owners are still wealthier than average.

    It’s also important to keep in mind that not all slave owners were wealthy in the first place, as many of them only owned a single slave. To better test this issue, maybe the study would need to focus only on the descendents of the wealthiest of slave owners (i.e., the slave owners who benefited the most from slavery). Also, money has tended to past down to sons and so you’d need to look at those carrying the surnames of the wealthiest slave owners.

    Another factor others also have mentioned is that a focus on states isn’t a very useful way of measuring the long-term gains by slave-owning descendents.

    “But, anyway, if some of slavery alone’s “quadrillions of dollars” (that Klein cites as practically besides the point, questionable as that figure might be) survived elsewhere, for example in the northern US economy which was rather reliant on Southern agriculture, you’d want to account for that.”

    Many wealthy Southerners would have left the South after the devastation of the Civil War and the problems of Reconstruction. They likely went to the North or to the West Coast. Furthermore, many wealthy Northerners invested in or benefited from the Southern slave economy. The two economies were intertwined. The Civil War caused much of the wealth of slave owners to be shifted to the Northern economy.

    The ultimate problem is there is no way to separate the slave factor from every other factor of racial prejudice that has existed for centuries. There are a number of excellent books that look at the data such as When Affirmative Action Was White by Ira Katznelson, Sundown Towns by James W. Loewen, The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, etc.

  2. “While I thought we knew this, file this under actual evidence. Poor people get sick differently from the rich, and it is not just healthcare that causes the difference. It is the difference in environment.”

    I’m always glad to see actual evidence. That is what need to further understanding and public debate.

    This is similar to many other issues involving environment. A poor black child being adopted into a well off white family on average raises his IQ by upwards of 20 points compared to the siblings who weren’t adopted.

    That is pretty much the entire black-white IQ gap eliminated by a change of environment, and that still didn’t include a change of environment for the earliest influences such as the environmental factors during pregnancy and infancy.

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