Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Material success and social failure?

More junk epidemiology below. The authors find less social dysfunction in Nordic countries and in Japan and say that is because incomes are more equal there. So, like nearly all epidemiologists, they make causal inferences from correlational data -- which you cannot logically do. They allegedly spent 30 years arriving at their conclusions so I am sorry to say that it took me approximately two minutes to see an alternative explanation for their findings: ethnic diversity. Japan to this day has few immigrants and the Nordic countries have only recently begun to have a large immigrant population. And as Robert Putnam has famously shown, social homogeneity expands trust and co-operation. So there is less social dysfunction because people feel happier and safer and more co-operative in a country where most people are like them.

And, without looking at it in detail, I am guessing that the same applies to U.S. States. States with the largest minority populations (the South?) have the highest level of social dysfunction.

How nasty of me to undermine so quickly conclusions that so suit the prejudices of the Left! But even if all of the explanation that I have just given is wrong, the point still stands that "correlation is not causation". You learn that in Statistics 101 but if you are a grand epidemiologist, you are allowed to ignore that, apparently. And BOTH of us could be wrong. There could be some third process at work generating the numbers concerned. Assigning causes from epidemiological data is always mere speculation

It is common knowledge that in rich societies the poor have shorter lives and suffer more from almost every social problem. Likewise, large inequalities of income are often regarded as divisive and corrosive. In a groundbreaking book, based on 30 years' research, Richard Wilkinson, Emeritus Professor at The University of Nottingham together with co-author Kate Pickett from the University of York, go an important stage beyond either of these ideas to demonstrate that more unequal societies are bad for almost everyone within them - the well-off as well as the poor.

Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett forcefully demonstrate that nearly every modern social and environmental problem - ill-health, lack of community, life, violence, drugs, obesity, mental illness , long working hours, big prison populations - is more likely to occur in a less equal society, and adversely affects all of those within it.

The remarkable data the book presents and the measures it uses are like a spirit level which we can hold up to compare the conditions of different societies. It reveals that if Britain [Which has always received lots of immigrants and which as a consequence now has a large and troublesome minority population] became as equal as the average for the four most equal of the rich countries (Japan, Norway, Sweden and Finland), levels of trust might be expected to increase by two-thirds, homicide rates could fall by 75 per cent, everyone could get the equivalent of almost seven weeks extra holiday a year, and governments could be closing prisons all over the country.

The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better, shows us how, after a point, additional income buys less and less additional health, happiness and wellbeing. The issue is now community and how we relate to each other. This important book explains how it is now possible to piece together a new, compelling and coherent picture of how we can release societies from the grip of pervasive and schismatic dysfunctional behaviour, a picture which will revitalise politics and provide a new way of thinking about how we organise human communities. It is a major new approach to how we can improve the real quality of life, not just for the poor, but for everyone.

More here

The above post also appears today on my FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC blog, which is where I normally debunk epidemiological theorizing



Obama and special interests: "In his weekend radio address of February 28, 2009, President Obama once again talked about how he isn't captive to any special interest group. As he put it, `The system we have now might work for the powerful and well-connected interests that have run Washington for far too long, but I don't. I work for the American people,' Obama declared. `I didn't come here to do the same thing we've been doing or to take small steps forward, I came to provide the sweeping change that this country demanded when it went to the polls in November.' . Who are all these (mean, vicious) special interests? And who are all the (honorable, virtuous) American people? Lo and behold they are the very same citizens of the country! Yes these special interest groups are composed of Americans who are represented by experts at approaching the government for various types of support. They are farmers, artists, merchants small and large, teachers, steel workers, auto workers, bankers, brokers, dentists, doctors, and so on and so forth. That is who all these nasty, vicious special interest groups are made up of, the same folks who are so noble and innocent, The People!"

The return of big government: "Despite the bad economy he inherited, the political circumstances, for Obama at least, are favorable. He's popular, as new presidents usually are. He talks about `hard choices' but hasn't made any. With large Democratic majorities in Congress, he's free of worry about rebellion on Capitol Hill. Despite glitches in picking his cabinet, his cool demeanor is unshaken. He governs campaign-style, largely with speeches and announcements. No wonder he enjoys being president. Accountability comes later. But there's a problem. Candidates don't have to deal with reality. They talk about the wonderful things they can accomplish as if advocating them is the same as achieving them. They live in a world of political make-believe in which everything from reconciling conflicting interests to paying for costly programs is easy. That's the world Obama continues to inhabit."

Waiting for Godot?: "Is he really just a one-trick pony? What does he do but grind out speeches? What meat-grinder is running behind him, fed with lists of great words, lists of lofty leftist platitudes? His fans swoon, hearing only heavenly hope, nothing but the sweetest swill. Obama is surely the greatest speechmaker in generations. I think he tops Clinton, he challenges Ronald Reagan, Eugene McCarthy, even Franklin Roosevelt. Are we rats following the pied piper? What is the substance? Where is the beef? No beef."

It would be cheaper to fight World War II again: "What is the right word to describe the U.S. government's current and proposed fiscal condition: fantastic, unbelievable, surreal? The Obama administration now expects a budget deficit in fiscal year 2009 of $1,750 billion, or more than 12 percent of GDP. Total federal spending this year is expected to be $3,940 billion, or 27 percent of GDP. President Barack Obama promises that the deficit will be brought down to $1,170 billion in fiscal year 2010. Don't bank on it. Did anyone, even two or three years ago, expect this situation to develop? We need to go back only ten years, to fiscal year 1999, to reach a time when the government's total outlays were smaller than this year's deficit."

Bureaucratic corruption: "Televisions, X-Boxes, alcohol, Internet software and tuition. Inspector General auditors say those are just some of the questionable purchases made by Tennessee Valley Authority employees on their government charge cards. An audit of the program created to pay for small business-related expenses finds spending has swelled to more than $75 million annually, with nearly a third of those purchases over $5,000. One unidentified cardholder had nearly $6 million in charges on six cards in two years. The auditors say the program lacks `accountability and physical control.' TVA managers agree and say they are cracking down."

How big government infrastructure projects go wrong : "The recently enacted $787 billion 'stimulus' program appears to be the down payment on a sweeping `new New Deal' that will include many other ambitious government programs - including the possible nationalization of health care. Given the size and scope of such interventions into the economy, it's important to remember that big government programs often have results that are very different than what was intended. We can gain particular perspective by reflecting on the experience of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's most ambitious infrastructure program, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA)."

Scotland: Price control for booze -- to put the price UP, not to keep it down: "Scotland will enter a new age of temperance under radical plans aimed at curbing endemic drinking in a country with some of the worst alcohol abuse rates in the world. Ministers unveiled new plans yesterday which will set a minimum price for drinks, based on the number of units they contain, and a ban on promotions such as buy-one-get-one-free offers. If the plans are approved, Scotland will become the first country in Europe to fix a minimum price on drinks."

Capitalism is the cure not the cause: "Capitalism has become an easy scape-goat recently. This is best exemplified by the Obama Administration's New Deal on steroids. Rather than let the market process work on its own, the Administration has seen it fit to use this as an opportunity to naively think that by spending more money in order to create jobs, the economy will recover. President Obama's logic comes from the vantage point that government, not individuals, create wealth and prosperity and the institution must intervene in areas of human need, such as housing and healthcare, when people are unable to help themselves. Even when the economy slumps. If history is any guide, this is pure fantasy."

The beautiful harmony of collective community: "One of the arguments against decentralized decision-making is that it's too selfish. There's no collective action. There's no community. When the government does stuff, it's collective and therefore - so goes the argument - there's an opportunity for everyone to be acting on everyone else's behalf. These arguments have always struck me as strange. There's lots of collective action, it just isn't coerced. And I've never understood the `community' created by taxation."

China's first moon probe crashes to lunar surface: "China's first moon probe Chang'e 1 intentionally crashed into the lunar surface on Sunday after more than year of science observations, according to state media reports. . Chinese space officials said they planned to launch a follow-up mission - Chang'e 2 - by 2011. Chang'e 1's intentional crash was slated to be a dry run for a potential moon landing, they said Sunday."

The infinite dullness of PBS TV news: "Over the last few months I have had my TiVo record the News Hour with Jim Lehrer, the famed PBS TV program deemed very highfalutin by my liberal colleagues and pals. It's not so much that I lack news sources but more a matter of my own limited amateur investigative journalism. I am curious how a substantially government-funded news program deals with the current national and international economic fiasco. By now I have watched over three months of this program and just as I suspected, it is so terribly biased, so uninterested in balanced reportage that it has become very boring to watch it evening after evening."


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The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)


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