September 3, 2009

Crucial new mortgage study: "Liar's Loan?"

Here are excerpts from an important new paper on the causes of the Mortgage Meltdown, "Liar's Loan?" by three academic economists from Columbia, Indiana, and Yale. They obtained records on 721,767 mortgages handed out from January 2004 to February 2008 (including deliquencies up through January 2009) by a big, very aggressive national mortgage bank. The economists managed to match most of them up with ethnicity info from the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act database.

They don't say who the bank is (or, more likely, was) but it septupled the number of mortgages it gave out from the first half of 2004 to the second half of 2006. It gave out a lower percentage of subprime loans than the national average, but it did specialize in low-documentation (liar loans) mortgages.

The results aren't terribly surprising. Low-document (i.e., liar loans) have higher delinquency rates than full document loans, and loans originated by local mortgage brokers who sold them to the bank did worse than the loans originated by the bank itself. The model, therefore, is one of predatory securitizing from the ground up.

The usual ethnic differences in delinquency are observed:
"In the full sample, the ranking of delinquency rates by race/ethnicity is as follows: white (24.7%), Asian (27.1%), black (37.4%), and Hispanic (40.2%)."

That's not as great as the huge ethnic differences (3.3x for blacks vs. whites, 2.5x for Hispanics, and 1.6x for Asians) seen even in credit score and income-adjusted foreclosure rates from the state of California in the San Francisco Fed study by Laderman and Reid. (I've filed a Freedom of Information Act request to get the crucial raw data for California from the SF Fed).

The narrower delinquency rates seen in this one bank study are not surprising, since the bank was more or less pursuing a certain class of borrowers (i.e., iffy ones).
Liar’s Loan?

Effects of Origination Channel and Information Falsification on Mortgage Delinquency

Wei Jiang, Ashlyn Aiko Nelson, Edward Vytlacil

This Draft: August 2009

ABSTRACT This paper presents a comprehensive predictive model of mortgage delinquency using a unique dataset from a major national mortgage bank containing all of its loan origination information from 2004 to 2008. Our analysis highlights two major agency problems underlying the mortgage crisis: an agency problem between the bank and mortgage brokers that results in lower quality broker-originated loans, and an agency problem between banks and borrowers that results in information falsification by borrowers of low-documentation loans--known in the industry as Alt-A or “liars’ loans”--especially when originated through a broker. We also document significant differences in loan performance by race/ethnicity that cannot be explained by observable risk factors or loan pricing.

...The crisis that started from the mortgage market quickly spread to other financial markets and throughout the economy...

We use the experience of a major national mortgage bank to uncover the determinants of the mortgage crisis and the evolution of the crisis at a micro level.... Loans issued by the bank since the beginning of 2004 reached a cumulative delinquency rate of 28% by early 2009; approximately half of these delinquent loans were in the state of short sale or foreclosure. Finally, the borrowers and properties underlying the bank’s loans during our sample period have fair representations in all 50 states. Therefore, lessons from this particular bank have general implications for the national mortgage market. The proprietary data set represents the most comprehensive, detailed, and disaggregated data set in the mortgage loan literature. Our data set consists of all 721,767 loans that the bank originated between January 2004 and February 2008. ...

We provide evidence of borrower information falsification at both individual variable and aggregate levels. ...

Finally, we document significantly higher delinquency rates among Hispanic and black borrowers. The differences in delinquency rates--4 to 11 percentage points higher for Hispanics and 3 to 4 percentage points higher for blacks, relative to white borrowers--are not explained by the full set of individual risk factors collected at loan origination, or by differences in loan pricing. Our analysis--which includes far more detailed data than that used in prior research on the relationship between race/ethnicity and credit-- does not support a finding of discrimination, whereby minorities are subjected to higher lending standards or higher pricing for given financial products. Rather, the findings suggest that systematic differences between white and minority borrowers--such as information and experience disparities resulting from a lack of prior home buying experience or exposure to mainstream financial institutions--may explain these delinquency differences. ....

The housing boom welcomed many first-time homebuyers to the mortgage market. In early 2004, only 7.6% of borrowers in the sample were first-time homebuyers, a figure that climbed to 18.1% by late 2006. As the housing market collapsed and lenders tightened standards, the percent of first-timers fell to 12.7% by the end of 2007. During the sample period, black and Hispanic borrowers gained a significantly higher share of new loan originations. In early 2004, they represented 4.5% and 7.5% of the borrower population, respectively; by early 2007, the percentages were 8.9% and 23.3%. More strikingly, the proportion of blacks and Hispanics who were first-time borrowers increased from 10.3% in early 2004 to more than 25% in late 2006. The national mortgage market experienced a similar increase during the same period in the percentage of first-time homebuyers and the expansion of credit to minority households, who were disproportionately first-time homebuyers. According to national HMDA data on home purchase loans,8 6.6% (10.8%) of borrowers were black (Hispanic) in 2004; the numbers increased to 8.7% (14.4%) in 2006.

The graph in Figure 3 in the report shows that early 2007 vintage loans had radically higher delinquency rates than early 2004 loans: 31% of the early 2007 loans were delinquent by early 2009 compared to 12% of early 2004 loans. One reason was the lower prices in 2004 than in 2005-2007; another was that the bank was scraping deeper and deeper into the bottom of the barrel, dragging up ever more dubious borrowers.
... Column 1 of Table 4 Panel A indicates that the following variables predict a higher likelihood that a borrower will obtain a loan from a broker rather than from the bank: high debt level, original purchase (as opposed to refinance), first lien, first-time owner, owner-occupied, low income, low credit score, female borrower, minority borrower, young borrower, short employment tenure, and self-employed. All non-white racial groups favor the Broker channel in comparison to whites. Most of these characteristics (except perhaps the first-lien and self-employed variables) are associated, on average, with lower financial sophistication, less experience with mortgages, and lower credit quality. This relation calls attention to the issue of irresponsible lending--lending without due regard to ability to pay, to poorly informed borrowers--as analyzed by Bond, Musto, and Yilmaz (2008) and Inderst (2006).

The government spent years telling the mortgage industry to diversify its broker forces. When it finally did, that just greased the skids for Spanish-speaking and black mortgage brokers to dredge up bad borrowers who didn't have a clue what they were getting themselves talked into by their co-ethnics.

The variables that predict choosing a low-doc loan have the following contrasts with those that predict choosing a broker. First, borrowers with low loan-to-value (LTV) ratios but high loan size are more likely to choose low documentation. Second, first-time owners and those purchasing owner occupied properties are less likely to choose low documentation. Third, borrowers with high income and credit scores tend to choose low documentation. Fourth, black borrowers do not appear disproportionately in low documentation loans, while Hispanic and Asian borrowers do.

An examination of credit scores by race reveals that average credit scores are highest among Asian and white borrowers, and lowest among Hispanic and black borrowers. Hispanic borrowers who obtain loans directly from the bank have credit scores that are comparable to those of white borrowers, but those who obtain loans through a broker have credit scores that are on average 2-5 points lower. Black borrowers have average credit scores that are 14-27 points lower than white borrower credit scores, across all subsamples.

Remember, this is just for borrowers from this dubious bank, not for the overall population.
Section V offers a more detailed analysis of these race/ethnicity effects. Last, the time trend of credit scores, as shown by the year dummy variable coefficients, is informative; while Bank loans saw steady improvement in credit scores over time from 2004-2008, credit scores for Broker loans deteriorated from 2004-2007, and only recovered in 2008. The findings provide evidence that the bank pursued a growth strategy which relied on penetrating marginal borrowers through the broker channel.

A "Don't Tell Us, We Don't Want to Know" relationship between the bank and the mortgage brokers.

V. “The Color of Credit:” Race/Ethnicity and Loan Performance There is a large body of research dedicated to exploring disparate impact on minorities in credit markets and in the mortgage market in particular. A common challenge in this line of research is distinguishing between the effects of disparate impact and discrimination, because most researchers pursuing this question do not have access to the full set of variables to predict loan pricing and performance (see Ross and Yinger (2002) for a full analysis of challenges in identifying racial discrimination in the mortgage market). As an example, the landmark Boston Fed Study (Munnell, Tootell, Browne, and McEneaney (1996)) found that race strongly predicted loan approval among applicants even after controlling for a long list of personal characteristics and individual risk factors, though their estimated race effects were smaller than those found in earlier studies employing a smaller set of control variables. Yet their study did not include other important covariates--such as credit score--which strongly predict loan performance, and did not have information on ex post loan performance. Thus, the study was unable to conclude whether the disparate loan approval rates across race resulted from legitimate economic considerations or from discrimination.

Our findings complement this line of prior research by including additional covariates and by relating loan performance to race/ethnicity. In the full sample, the ranking of delinquency rates by race/ethnicity is as follows: white (24.7%), Asian (27.1%), black (37.4%), and Hispanic (40.2%). Controlling for observable characteristics, the black-white (2.8 to 5.2 percentage points) and Hispanic-white (5.9 to 8.3 percentage points) differences are statistically significant at the 1% level in all four subsamples, while the Asian-White differences (-1.1 to 1.1 percentage points) are not significant even at the 10% level. Notably, the difference in the delinquency rates between white and black/Hispanic borrowers is more than 50% higher in the Broker subsamples than in the Bank subsamples.

It would be very interesting to track delinquency rates by the race of the broker.
We must also control for loan pricing in order to attribute these delinquency differences to race/ethnicity. If certain racial/ethnic groups pay higher interest rates conditional on other characteristics, then the heavier payment burden could cause higher delinquency. Such a concern is warranted by prior research on consumer financing. Charles, Hurst, and Stephens (2008) show that blacks pay significantly higher rates when financing a new car, in large part because blacks are more likely to use more expensive financing companies. Similarly, Ravina (2008) finds that black borrowers in an online lending market pay rates that are over 100 basis points higher than comparably risky white borrowers. Much of the difference can be attributed to favorable interest rates obtained in same-race lender-borrower pairings and the underrepresentation of black lenders. In the context of mortgage lending, price differences could occur by pricing a given product differently for borrowers from different demographic groups, but more likely occurs through steering uninformed borrowers into more costly products, such as subprime loans, when more attractive products are available; or through aggressive negotiation strategies used by brokers to enhance their fees and commissions (known in the industry as yield spread premiums).

We find no evidence that black or Hispanic borrowers pay higher initial or current interest rates on bank-originated loans, conditional on observable individual risk factors. However, among broker originated loans, black borrowers appear to pay higher rates, on the order of 10-16 basis points, while there is no clear evidence that Hispanic borrowers are subject to higher loan pricing. While the coefficients on Black are significant and positive in the Broker subsamples, the magnitudes are much lower than those documented in other credit markets (e.g., Charles, Hurst, and Stephens (2008) and Ravina (2009)). The estimated gender effect is insignificant throughout, both in terms of loan pricing and loan performance. Our results are closer to findings in Haughwout, Mayer, and Tracy (2009) that there is no adverse pricing by race, ethnicity, or gender in either the initial rate or the reset margin based on a sample of subprime loans originated between 2004 and 2006.

Our data suggest that loan pricing is an unlikely explanation for the higher delinquency rates observed among black and Hispanic borrowers. Black borrowers exhibit higher delinquency rates relative to white borrowers, even for bank-originated loans for which we find no evidence of unfavorable pricing. The average (median) unpaid balance on loans among black borrowers is $185,000 ($150,000). Thus, the estimated black-white difference in interest rate among broker-originated loans--10-16 basis points-- amounts to an additional monthly payment of $15-$25 (or $13-$20) using the mean (or median) balance. It is unlikely that such a difference could be pivotal in loan delinquency.

Moreover, Hispanic borrowers exhibit the highest delinquency rates in our sample among all demographic groups, although there is no evidence that they face unfavorable interest rates in comparison to other groups.

Previous work sheds light on the unobserved risk factors that are correlated with race/ethnicity variables. First, blacks and Hispanics have lower savings rates on average than whites of similar age, education and income (Blau and Graham (1990), Charles, Hurst, and Roussanov (2007)). As a result, they accumulate less wealth (often difficult to measure), making them more vulnerable to adverse economic shocks. Second, minorities are less likely to have family or relatives who can help when they have trouble meeting their mortgage payments (Yinger, 1995).

Third, Guiso, Sapienza, and Zingales (2009) offer an interesting explanation for the highest delinquency rates observed among Hispanic borrowers. Based on survey data, the authors find that Hispanics are much less likely (between 18 and 27 percentage points) than blacks or whites to feel morally or socially obligated to continue paying their mortgages when the equity value is significantly below zero.

Wow. Don't tell the SPLC or they'll come after Wei Jiang, Ashlyn Aiko Nelson, Edward Vytlacil with pitchforks.
Historically, policymakers and researchers concerned with mortgage lending discrimination have focused on two key issues: unequal access to credit (i.e., disparities in loan approvals and denials) and pricing disparities. While we do not examine differences in mortgage approvals by race, our analysis suggests that the housing boom fueled a rapid expansion of credit among Hispanic and black borrowers. Moreover, the share of first-time borrowers among black and Hispanic households grew from 10% in early 2004 to 25% in late 2006. In addition, we find little evidence of pricing discrimination as a cause for loan delinquency.

Taken together, the findings suggest that market dynamics and credit expansionary practices during the sample period may have alleviated some of the inequalities in credit access and pricing. Yet the ex post loan performance data suggests that such credit expansion was achieved largely through lowered lending standards, particularly among brokers originating low-documentation loans. The persistence of Hispanic and black race effects in the delinquency models raises further questions, including whether such borrowers were well-informed about the mortgage process and possessed the requisite experience and knowledge to continue making their mortgage payments in full and on time.

In other words, the government finally got what it had been asking for, and got it good and hard.
Our analysis raises the question of why this major mortgage bank—as well as other market players—allowed such deterioration in borrower and loan quality to persist before tightening its lending standards. A plausible explanation is that the expansion of the secondary mortgage market and the ease of loan securitization weakened the bank’s incentive to screen borrowers by allowing the bank to offload risk.

Predatory securitizing.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

The New, Life-Sized Obama

Your Lying Eyes asks:
What happened to Obama's awesome charisma?

Maybe he never really had any. Maybe his legions of disciples were simply awed that a black man could be so ... well, like them, that it was their own reflections -- reflections of their own awesomeness, their self-righteous, universalistic, 21st-centuriness -- that mesmerized them. That and some well crafted speeches and an appealing delivery before a teleprompter. But the man himself is a zero when it comes to personality, and his limited level of achievement in his pre-Axelrod life should have been a signal that maybe he's not all that.

At any rate, he was supposed to hit the hustings and take the Health Care cause directly to the American people and bypass all that news reporting slanted against him and rouse the troops. Yawn. Seems like a ragtag collection of malcontents with trucker hats make more compelling viewing than Barry's lame pontificating.

Then there's this video:
White House Reveals Obama Is Bipolar, Has Entered Depressive Phase

Seriously, I suspect Obama is rather like George W. Bush: a psychologically fragile personality who needs a lot of downtime. Bush managed to baby himself through eight years without publicly falling off the wagon, and Obama seems to be trying to pace himself as well. Both put plenty of time into working out, with Obama seemingly even more devoted to golf, a very time-consuming game.

Obama understands himself reasonably well, so he has rules -- e.g., no drama queens among his staffers -- to avoid using up too much of his energy and upsetting his emotional balance. So, expect Obama to up his game somewhat after Labor Day.

Still, Democrats need to worry that Obama could go into a down cycle like the year-long one he apparently suffered after his rejection by black voters as not black enough in a 2000 primary.

Even if he avoids that, Obama is not a gonzo hypomanic like Bill Clinton, who was just on the go all the time. He's sensitive and self-absorbed. Plus, unlike Bush, he's a night person, who is at his sharpest late in the evening. Clinton was a night person, but he didn't need much sleep.

When you are President, you can make your staff follow your schedule (until you burn them out), but you can't do public events in the wee hours of the morning. If you are going to give a big speech at the National Convention of Whatevers, they'll want you to give it some time between 9am and 9pm.

Another problem with being a night person is insomnia (which is common among people who get more energetic as the day goes on), which doesn't fit well with living a Big Life with a Big Schedule. That's basically what killed Michael Jackson: insomnia combined with a demanding schedule of large-scale rehearsals (plus having your own private Dr. Feelgood to shoot you up with an ever-escalating series of sleeping drugs).

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

September 2, 2009

The 1960s: Elite Lib

In traditional Western cultures, below the rank of aristocrats, romantic and sexual impulsiveness was a major threat to social standing. The punishment in terms of class standing for out-of-wedlock births was so harsh that the illegitimacy rate among women in England in 1200-1800 was stable at around 3-4%, even though women didn't marry on average until age 24 to 26.

The sexual revolution of the 1960s, which hit home in the 1970s, disrupted this traditional system of social sanctions. You can see its power in the spread of the term "single mother," which is now used as a self-description not only by mothers who have never been married, but also by divorced mothers, and even by widows with orphans! My wife knew a Korean lady with two young daughters whose husband had been killed in a car crash. Being old-fashioned, I assumed she would describe herself with that honorable term "widow." But, being a newcomer to America, she had realized what I hadn't noticed yet: "widow" was out of fashion, "single mother" was in.

And yet ... the old logic that children need two parents to have the best chance to succeed in life still plays out even though we aren't supposed to mention it. What I've noticed in socializing with financially successful families whose children are on the academic fast-track is that they follow the old rules implicitly. Divorce is relatively rare, illegitimacy even rarer, mothers who aren't highly-paid executives are typically housewives, and so forth.

So, by removing social indoctrination of the masses, the post-Sexual Revolution system selects even more than the earlier system for social success by individuals who are intelligent and cold-blooded. In contrast, people of impulsive temperaments and less ability to foresee the consequences of giving into their impulses are now much more on their own with far less guidance from the culture.

Thus, the people in the upper reaches of society are increasingly of what you might call a Swedish or Swiss personality (or are Asian immigrants whose families never took seriously the 1960s).

But nobody is supposed to notice that publicly. So, the top level of our society continues to argue for the breaking down of old restrictions, whether on the idea that marriage is between a man and a woman or that their should be limits on debt and interest rates. After all, individualistic self-determination works fine for the upper middle class.

From this perspective, the 1960s cultural revolution look like an Elites Liberation movement, in which Unitarians, Congregationalists, Jews, Episcopalians, Christian Scientists, and similar products of centuries of bourgeois culture decided that they, personally, could get by without the old rules, which, indeed, many of them could. Moreover, they were tired of being expected to be role models of starchy behavior for the proles.

But the tenor of the times demanded that this Elites Lib movement be cloaked in egalitarian and civil rights rhetoric and policies (such as refocusing AFDC from Roosevelt's aim of supporting widows to supporting single mothers, because we wouldn't want to discriminate against blacks), with disastrous effects on people toward the bottom of society, especially blacks.

By the way, that reminds me that perhaps nothing I've ever written has outraged people more than my defense of America's average African-Americans that I wrote during the Hurricane Katrina anarchy. I pointed out that the New Orleans blacks who were misbehaving so conspicuously on TV aren't representative of the national black average:
Judging from their economic and educational statistics, New Orleans' blacks are not even an above-average group of African-Americans, such as you find in Atlanta or Seattle, but more like Miami's or Milwaukee's. About half are below the poverty line. With the national black average IQ around 85, New Orleans' mean black IQ would probably be in the lower 80s or upper 70s.

I argued that New Orleans' African-Americans had long been notorious for worse behavior than the national black average, and that New Orleans' libertine Latin / tourist trap morals are one cause:

The unofficial state motto is "Laissez les bons temps rouler" or "Let the good times roll." Compare that to New Hampshire's official motto of "Live free or die," which display a rather different understanding of freedom. Louisiana's reigning philosophy is freedom from responsibility.

It's a general rule that the tastier the indigenous cuisine, the lousier the government. Its culture has provided America with jazz, A Street Car Named Desire, and the great American comic novel of the 20th Century, A Confederacy of Dunces. New Orleans is a nice place to visit. But you wouldn't want to raise your kids there.

All this is now common parlance, more or less. What you won’t hear, except from me, is that "Let the good times roll" is an especially risky message for African-Americans. The plain fact is that they tend to possess poorer native judgment than members of better-educated groups. Thus they need stricter moral guidance from society.

The berserk denunciations this observation of mine elicited were partly the usual Pavlovian Emperor's New Clothes response to examples of Blacks Behaving Badly. When the most prominent black professor in the country throws a two-year-old's tantrum, the President of the United States insists upon a national conversation about white racism. When six black high school football stars batter a single unconscious white youth in Jena, then the future President of the United States denounces white racism.

As Lionel Tiger and Robin Fox said about Hans Christian Andersen’s The Emperor’s New Clothes, the psychology of the story suddenly goes all wrong at the end. As you’ll recall, the two “weavers” contend that only intelligent people worthy of holding their jobs can see the new clothes. So, just because one little brat is saying “The emperor has no clothes,” the mob isn’t going to suddenly agree with the kid. They are instead going to get very angry at this obviously stupid child who, clearly, isn’t even worthy of holding his job of street urchin, unlike all of the respectable people who deserve their positions of authority, who are all smart enough to see that the Emperor is wearing a ... uh ... new, higher form of clothing.

I suspect, however, that I had also sinned by tangentially calling into question one of the sacred myths of our age, repeated endlessly by PBS: that the 1960s cultural revolution was for the benefit of blacks, when, in truth, it was for the benefit of upper middle class whites, and was very much at the expense of people farther down the social scale.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

Are women to blame for the Mortgage Meltdown?

My Wednesday Taki column is now up. It takes a close look at the 2006 Century 21 commercial Suzanne Researched This. Read it there and comment upon it below.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

African Cougars

Maureen Dowd's pal Natalie Angier writes in the New York Times:
Skipping Spouse to Spouse Isn’t Just a Man’s Game

In the United States and much of the Western world, when a couple divorces, the average income of the woman and her dependent children often plunges by 20 percent or more, while that of her now unfettered ex, who had been the family’s primary breadwinner but who rarely ends up paying in child support what he had contributed to the household till, climbs accordingly. The born-again bachelor is therefore perfectly positioned to attract a new, younger wife and begin building another family.

Small wonder that many Darwinian-minded observers of human mating customs have long contended that serial monogamy is really just a socially sanctioned version of harem-building. By this conventional evolutionary psychology script, the man who skips from one nubile spouse to another over time is, like the sultan who hoards the local maidenry in a single convenient location, simply seeking to “maximize his reproductive fitness,” to sire as many children as possible with as many wives as possible. It is the preferred male strategy, especially for powerful men, right? Sequentially or synchronously, he-men consort polygynously.

Women, by contrast, are not thought to be natural serializers. Sure, a gal might date around when young, but once she starts a family, she is assumed to crave stability. After all, she can bear only so many children in her lifetime, and divorce raises her risk of poverty. ...

Yet in a report published in the summer issue of the journal Human Nature, Monique Borgerhoff Mulder of the University of California, Davis, presents compelling evidence that at least in some non-Western cultures where conditions are harsh and mothers must fight to keep their children alive, serial monogamy is by no means a man’s game, finessed by him and foisted on her. To the contrary, Dr. Borgerhoff Mulder said, among the Pimbwe people of Tanzania, whose lives and loves she has been following for about 15 years, serial monogamy looks less like polygyny than like a strategic beast that some evolutionary psychologists dismiss as quasi-fantastical: polyandry, one woman making the most of multiple mates.

In her analysis, Dr. Borgerhoff Mulder found that although Pimbwe men were somewhat more likely than their female counterparts to marry multiple times, women held their own and even outshone men in the upper Zsa Zsa Gabor end of the scale, of five consecutive spouses and counting. And when Dr. Borgerhoff Mulder looked at who extracted the greatest reproductive payoff from serial monogamy, as measured by who had the most children survive past the first five hazardous years of life, she found a small but significant advantage female. Women who worked their way through more than two husbands had, on average, higher reproductive success, a greater number of surviving children, than either the more sedately mating women, or than men regardless of wifetime total.

Provocatively, the character sketches of the male versus female serialists proved to be inversely related. Among the women, those with the greatest number of spouses were themselves considered high-quality mates, the hardest working, the most reliable, with scant taste for the strong maize beer the Pimbwe famously brew. Among the men, by contrast, the higher the nuptial count, the lower the customer ranking, and the likelier the men were to be layabout drunks.

Note that the first characteristic of "high quality" wife is not "most beautiful" or "most faithful" or "kindest" but "hardest working." This is common in Africa, where women do most of the work of keeping children fed, so men have less incentive to be jealous of their straying wives since they aren't going to invest much in their wives' kids even if they are the fathers.

Let me make a surmise here about Pimbwe women with five or more husbands and about Pimbwe men with five or more wives. In a society in which men don't produce much, the women who marry the most are the women who can afford to marry the most. The harder working women are using their greater income to afford the company of the sexy but unproductive men who catch their fancies. Eventually, much as the industrious wives enjoy their decorative husbands' skills at singing, dancing, fighting, and the like, they tire of subsidizing these drunken gigolos and kick them out. Only to wind up married to somebody similar.
“We’re so wedded to the model that men will benefit from multiple marriages and women won’t, that women are victims of the game,” Dr. Borgerhoff Mulder said. “But what my data suggest is that Pimbwe women are strategically choosing men, abandoning men and remarrying men as their economic situation goes up and down.”

The new analysis, though preliminary, is derived from one of the more comprehensive and painstaking data sets yet gathered of marriage and reproduction patterns in a non-Western culture. The results underscore the importance of avoiding the breezy generalities of what might be called Evolution Lite, an enterprise too often devoted to proclaiming universal truths about deep human nature based on how college students respond to their professors’ questionnaires. Throughout history and cross-culturally, Dr. Borgerhoff Mulder said, “there has been fantastic variability in women’s reproductive strategies.”

... The Pimbwe live in small villages, have few possessions and eke out a subsistence living farming, fishing, hunting and gathering.

Nor is there much formal sexual division of labor. “In terms of farming, men and women do pretty much the same tasks,” Dr. Borgerhoff Mulder said. “The men will cook, do a lot with the kids.”

Unlike in the West, where men control a far greater share of resources than women do, or in traditional pastoral societies like those found in the Middle East and Africa, where a woman is entirely dependent on the wealth of her husband and in divorce is not entitled to so much as a gimpy goat, Pimbwe women are independent operators and resourceful co-equals with men.

... The goose, like the gander, may find it tempting to wander if it means that her goslings will fly.

Okay, but, let's be frank, not many Pimbwe fly very high at all. They're dirt poor. And one big reason for that might very well be a social structure that selects women for productivity and men for sexiness. You wind up a lot poorer than when it's the other way around. A society that encourages wives to indulge their fickle sexual whims is likely to be poorer than one that doesn't.

The Pimbwe are the anti-Finns. What's the old joke? How can a woman tell when a Finnish man is interested in her? He looks at her shoes rather than his own shoes. The Finns don't make good gigolos. But they do make good cell phones.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

September 1, 2009

"State of Play" now on DVD

Here's my full-length review of Russell Crowe's spring thriller "State of Play:"

“State of Play” is an intermittently intelligent Capitol Hill thriller based on a celebrated 2003 BBC miniseries. The story was Americanized by at least five competent Hollywood hacks, including Tony Gilroy, who wrote the similar “Michael Clayton,” one of George Clooney’s movies about a murderous corporate conspiracy that goes all the way to the top.

The new film starts out much like “Michael Clayton” and “Syriana,” just even more Ripped from the Headlines, with Ben Affleck as a Gary Condit-like Congressman. (Politics may be show business for ugly people, but Affleck’s convincingly wooden performance suggests that Congress is for handsome but mediocre thespians whose range is restricted to acting sincere.) The Representative’s Chandra Levy-like staffer, who is investigating a Blackwater-like mercenary-monger, gets hit by a subway train.

After the politician persuades his Silda Spitzer-like wife to stand by him at a news conference where he admits to the affair, he hides out in the disheveled apartment of his one-time college roommate, an old-fashioned investigative journalist at a declining Washington Post-like newspaper. The besieged Congressman discloses that he thinks his mistress was murdered because she was getting too close to the truth: the Blackwaterish firm is going to take over America with its private army.

Brad Pitt was cast as the reporter hero of “State of Play,” but walked away at the last moment due to script objections. I admired, however, the way the later plot developments undermined the clich├ęs of Clooney’s conspiracy genre. The boring truth is that in America, politically connected CEOs seldom rub out their rivals. As the Rep. Jane Harman-Haim Saban wiretap scandal demonstrates, Washington conspiracies are mostly talk. Moreover, Russians and Mexicans scoff at the small sums that buy our politicos, such as the Congressman caught with $90,000 in his icebox. (Although now that so many trillions have gone up for grabs, perhaps we can hope our oligarchs will at least give us some satisfying entertainment in return for our bailout billions by starting to shoot each other over the money …)

With Pitt out, a pudgy Russell Crowe jumped in. Like Jeff Bridges in “The Big Lebowski,” Crowe looks fat and happy in a role where abs don’t matter. Early in this decade, Crowe was the finest leading man in Hollywood, starring in “Gladiator,” “A Beautiful Mind,” “Master and Commander,” and “Cinderella Man.” Since then, however, he seems to find himself with empty stretches on his schedule, perhaps because he’s seen as an ornery party animal. (On New Year’s Eve in 1999, while the rest of the world was timidly hunkering down in fear of Y2K glitches, Crowe celebrated with millennial gusto, getting himself arrested for disturbing the peace three times.) Crowe’s Aussie manliness carries him through his under-rehearsed role, and the celebrity’s personal distaste for journalists adds interest to what could have been a routine hagiography.

To chase down the conspiracy, Crowe’s veteran reporter teams up with a callow blogger (the ever-perky Rachel McAdams of “Wedding Crashers”). Much banter about the rivalry between print and online journalism ensues. Yet the movie misses the key personality difference between traditional media and the more Aspergery culture of the Web: newspaper reporters converse constantly, while Web people prefer Google to human contact. Young Matthew Yglesias, for instance, recently declared on his blog, “Definitely the whole time I was employed at The Atlantic I never once returned a voicemail. … In general, I’m not a fan of talking on the phone ...”

The movie portrays Crowe’s aging reporter as a solitary man, trudging alone to confront the powerful in their lairs. In reality, as Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop made clear, traditional reporters are most comfortable in packs, where they can gauge what’s “appropriate” to ask and to write from the consensus of their colleagues.

Just when the strident soundtrack (synthesizers and militaristic drums relentlessly barking “Tense up!”) and now-mandatory Shaky-Cam cinematography have almost ruined a decent if predictable story, an amusingly florid Jason Bateman (Arrested Development) shows up as a hedonistic public relations consultant, seemingly to contrast the greed of the flack with the nobility of the crusading journalist. The film’s countless screenwriters, though, are aware that reporters, such as the New York Times’ Judith Miller, who pipelined so much pro-Iraq war propaganda, are often just more respectable PR agents, publicizing messages in return for access to newsmakers.

From there, the movie keeps departing from its earlier Vast Corporate Conspiracy rut, ending with a plot twist that, while contrived, is surprisingly realistic.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

August 31, 2009

White House: More quotas, ahoy!

The New York Times reports on something I pointed out in on April 13, 2008 based on reading the civil rights pages on "More quotas, ahoy!"
White House to Shift Efforts on Civil Rights

The Obama administration is planning to revive high-impact enforcement of civil rights against policies where statistics show that minorities fare disproportionately poorly.

Seven months after taking office, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. is reshaping the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division by pushing it back into some of the most important areas of American political life, including voting rights, housing, employment, bank lending practices [swell idea! Too bad nobody ever thought of it before] and redistricting after the 2010 census.

As part of this shift, the Obama administration is planning a major revival of high-impact civil rights enforcement against policies, in areas ranging from housing to hiring, where statistics show that minorities fare disproportionately poorly [i.e. Disparate Impact]. President George W. Bush’s appointees had discouraged such tactics, preferring to focus on individual cases in which there is evidence of intentional discrimination.

To bolster a unit that has been battered by heavy turnover and a scandal over politically tinged hiring under the Bush administration, the Obama White House has also proposed a hiring spree that would swell the ranks of several hundred civil rights lawyers with more than 50 additional lawyers, a significant increase for a relatively small but powerful division of the government.

The division is “getting back to doing what it has traditionally done,” Mr. Holder said in an interview. “But it’s really only a start. I think the wounds that were inflicted on this division were deep, and it will take some time for them to fully heal.”

... Under the Bush administration, the agency shifted away from its traditional core focus on accusations of racial discrimination, channeling resources into areas like religious discrimination and human trafficking.

Uh, what about Alberto Gonzales's successful 2007 discrimination lawsuit, Vulcan Society against the Fire Department of New York, that was 100% Disparate Impact and 0% Disparate Treatment?
... The division has filed about 10 “friend of the court” briefs in private discrimination-related lawsuits since Mr. Obama’s inauguration, a practice that had dwindled in the previous administration.

In July, moreover, the division’s acting head, Loretta King, sent a memorandum to every federal agency urging more aggressive enforcement of regulations that forbid recipients of taxpayer money from policies that have a disparate impact on minorities.

Like Westchester County.
... Bush-era changes to the division’s permanent rank may also have lingering effects. From 2003 to 2007, Bush political appointees blocked liberals from career jobs and promotions, which they steered to fellow conservatives, whom one such official privately described as “real Americans,” a department inspector general report found. ...

Can't have that...
Many of their replacements had scant civil rights experience and were graduates of lower-ranked law schools. The transition report says the era of hiring such “inexperienced or poorly qualified” lawyers — who are now themselves protected by civil service laws — has left lasting damage.

Instead, we must have affirmative action admittees from top schools.
... The Civil Rights Division is now seeking to expand those changes. It is developing a new hiring policy under which panels of career employees — not political appointees — would decide both whom to hire and to promote for positions from interns to veteran lawyers. The policy could be completed as early as this month....

Some conservatives are skeptical that such a policy will keep politics out of hiring, however. Robert Driscoll, a division political appointee from 2001 to 2003, said career civil rights lawyers are “overwhelmingly left-leaning” and will favor liberals.

“If you are the Obama administration and you allow the career staff to do all the hiring, you will get the same people you would probably get if you did it yourself,” he said. “In some ways, it’s a masterstroke by them.”

Mr. Holder has elsewhere called for social changes with civil rights overtones, like the passage of a federal hate-crimes law, the elimination of the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine and greater financing for indigent defense.

By contrast, he described his Civil Rights Division efforts as more restoration than change. The recent moves, he argued, are a return to its basic approach under presidents of both parties — despite some policy shifts between Republican and Democratic administrations — before the “sea change” and “aberration” of the Bush years.

So, as Obama demands that the public trust him on the infinitely complex health bill, he's simultaneously raising the most fundamental question in politics: "Whose side are you on?"

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

"He who controls the past, controls the future"

From today's Wall Street Journal:
Donor's Views on Race Spark Outcry Over Parkland:
Activists Criticize California Town for Accepting Gift's Terms That Plot Be Named for Scientist Who Backed Eugenics Movement


AUBURN, Calif. -- This town in the Sierra Nevada foothills accepted the gift of a 28-acre plot from the estate of Nobel laureate William B. Shockley in March. The mostly forested land was to become a community park named after the famous physicist -- co-inventor of the transistor -- and his late wife.

Then the local newspaper pointed out that Mr. Shockley, who died in 1989, was a proponent of eugenics, a widely discredited movement most prominent in the 1920s and '30s that held that intelligence was racially linked -- and that called for sterilizing some Americans who were deemed socially and intellectually unfit.

Community activists and civil-rights organizations are criticizing Auburn's leaders for accepting the gift's terms that the park carry the Shockley name, and they are demanding that the town keep Mr. Shockley's name off the park or give the land back. "I cannot fathom how officials in Auburn would have the gall to name an area park after a white supremacist and think that would be readily accepted by residents," said Barry Broad, chairman of the Jewish Community Relations Council in Sacramento.

Officials in Auburn, a town of about 13,000 that is more than 90% white, said they didn't know about Mr. Shockley's eugenics ties at the time of the gift -- and don't support them -- but still plan to go ahead with the park.

The controversy in Auburn offers a window into a debate occurring in communities across the country about whether to strip the names of prominent historical figures from parks, schools and other institutions because of those people's views on race during earlier eras. ...

Eugenics has become a particular strike against once-respected historical figures in California. Last year, community groups persuaded lawmakers to strip the name of Charles M. Goethe, a prominent Sacramento-area banker in the early 1900s and founder of the Eugenics Society of Northern California, from a large Sacramento County park; it is now River Bend Park. In 2007, Sacramento's school board struck Mr. Goethe's name from a middle school and renamed it after Rosa Parks.

A reader writes:
Truly, to show how far we have come as a society and to turn our backs on racism and backward thinking, in general, we should turn our collective back on the transistor itself, tainted as it is with the stench of racism and eugenics. This would include, of course, the computer and all electronics which sprung from the transistor.

Sure, turning the clock back on progress by 60-plus years would cause some inconveniences, but it would be more than worth it to show how good and virtuous we are. For consistency's sake we must follow our logic to this conclusion.


And what about all the inventions of the founder of eugenics, Francis Galton, such as the weather map, the classification system that makes fingerprints usable in fighting crime, and the silent dog whistle?

Moreover, what about the entire field of statistics, which owes so much to flagrant eugenicists such as Galton, Karl Pearson, and Ronald A. Fischer? They invented much of modern statistics precisely to analyze differences among human beings. (And, I'm told, some bad people still use statistics for exactly those purposes). Therefore, statistics are inextricably bound up with evil and must be banned.

And when it comes to parks, this should be only the start! What about the Theodore Roosevelt National Park in the Badlands of North Dakota? TR was an outspoken eugenicist.

In fact, the National Park system, which PBS documentarian Ken Burns calls "America's Best Idea," was largely the work of eugenicists (e.g., Madison Grant was the prime impetus for saving the redwoods). Same for the National Forest system, which was started by eugenicist Gifford Pinchot. If we simply clear-cut all the National Parks and National Forests, then nobody would be tempted to ever again visit these sites with their evil historical associations.

While we're at it, let's revoke Winston Churchill's honorary American citizenship. He was another eugenicist.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

August 30, 2009

"Our Lot"

From my new column:
Our Lot: How Real Estate Came to Own Us by Alyssa Katz, a liberal journalist who writes for Mother Jones, is the best book yet on how the sacred cause of “diversity” merged with pedal-to-the-metal capitalism to bring us the Great Mortgage Meltdown.

The book hasn’t garnered the attention it deserves—probably because it makes clear the bipartisan responsibility of both her opponents on the Right and her friends on the Left.

Our Lot focuses equally on the misdeeds of both capitalists and leftists. But I won’t give the boiler room boys as much attention in this review because they’re a more familiar tale, while Katz’s reporting on the role of her side is compelling “testimony against interest.”

Katz is remarkably frank about how government programs and political pressure to boost minority homeownership helped blow up the economy. She’s particularly good at explicating how leftist housing activists, such as ACORN and Gale Cincotta, the godmother of the Community Reinvestment Act, worked with Democratic politicians such as Bill Clinton, HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros, and Jim Johnson, CEO of Fannie Mae, to lay the groundwork for the Bubble and Bust.

Katz doesn’t devote quite as much depth to the Bush Administration’s culpability (which, to my mind, is even greater). Perhaps she lacked Republican contacts to give her the kind of inside story she got on her own party’s mistakes.

Still, Our Lot makes clear that on housing policy, the Clinton-Bush years form a single continuum with one overarching plan: boost the minority homeownership rate by lowering credit standards. I call it the Era of Multi-Culti Capitalism.

And there’s little reason to think that its lessons have been learned yet.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

Obama eulogizes Sen. Kennedy as an economy-stimulating "shovel-ready project"

Even in death, this great American is helping the economy...

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer