September 9, 2010

The PC-Libertarian Conventional Wisdom Nexus, II

Unlike Austan Goolsbee (see next post), who has gone from being an NYT columnist to being Chairman of Obama's Council of Economic Advisers, Peter Orszag has gone from being Chairman of Obama's Council of Economic Advisers to being an NYT columnist. Orszag writes in the NYT:
The most important book I’ve read over the past six months is Matthew Syed’s “Bounce.” Teddy Roosevelt once said that “in this life we get nothing save by effort.” Syed shows how trenchant Roosevelt was.

Syed is a two-time Olympian in table tennis. His book is impressive for two reasons. First, he takes empirical evidence on the science of success seriously (and in the areas where I know the literature to some degree, his depiction is quite accurate). Second, he shows how that evidence shatters widespread myths about what leads to better performance in any complex undertaking (including, for example, chess, tennis and math).

Basically, we’ve bought into several misconceptions about excellence, which are not only wrong but affirmatively counterproductive.

Let me focus today on the core one. Too many of us believe in the “talent” myth — that top performers are born, rather than built. But Syed shows that in almost every arena in which tasks are complex, top performers excel not because of innate ability but because of dedicated practice. ...

Success in most arenas of life is thus not a reflection of innate skill but rather devoted effort. And Syed demonstrates why it is not just effort, but purposeful effort that is key — if you’re going to get better at chunking, you can’t just go through the motions and punch time on the clock. You need to put your heart into it. 

Is it really too much to ask that people at the top of the pyramid in the U.S. talk to the rest of us like we are adults? Isn't it obvious that the answer to the question of what does it take to get to the top, nature or nurture, is: both?

P.S. Orszag is back in the NYT with more Gladwellian conventional wisdom, having been roughed up pretty badly by commenters the first time:
"Or to phrase it differently, it seems plausible that many more people than commonly believed (but perhaps not all people!) have sufficient innate skill to perform at world-class levels in complex fields with sufficient practice; the problem is that they do not undertake the necessary practice. Indeed, the examples we have of individuals who put in 10,000 or more hours of dedicated practice and fail to achieve stunning levels of performance is quite limited — because most people are not willing to put in that time and effort."

I guess Orszag has never heard the term "career minor leaguer." Think of Kevin Costner's character in Bull Durham.

Or how about future Hall of Fame manager Tommy Lasorda's failure to make it as major leaguer despite an excellent minor league record? Lasorda pitched only 58 innings with a terrible 6.48 ERA in the Show during a playing career lasting from 1945-1960. I guess he just didn't bleed Dodger Blue enough or he would have made it in the big leagues. His failure to make it in the big leagues couldn't have had anything to do with his lack of innate physical talent.

The trick these people play is in their term of art "dedicated practice," which is used to make their argument unfalsifiable. Sure, from age 5 to 33, Tommy Lasorda spent tens of thousands of hours practicing baseball, but, by definition, he wasn't practicing baseball the right way or he wouldn't have failed.

In summary, the point is not that Orszag shows a Malcolm Gladwell-level ability to perform reality checks on his favorite ideas. Orszag isn't particularly important in and of himself, other than that he represents roughly the political median of elite opinion in 21st Century America. He shows that there exist such systematic impediments to clear thought among elites today that somebody as smart and well connected as Orszag can make a fool of himself in his first week as a NYT columnist because he doesn't know any better.

80 comments:

Anonymous said...

The ability to work hard seems to be a heritable talent to at least some extent.

TGGP said...

I don't think Orszag or Goolsbee have ever claimed to be libertarians.

Anonymous said...

Thank God dedication is not heritable or related to IQ, if it were then some people would be prone to success.

Syed is Paki-Welsh if you're wondering

Silver said...

Isn't it obvious that the answer to the question of what does it take to get to the top, nature or nurture, is: both?

I think a better question than "can _anyone_ compete and make it to the top?" is "can _anyone_ compete and better himself and lead a more fulfilling life as a result?"

I don't understand the obsession with "making it to the top." There's nothing wrong with reaching the top of itself. But it seems to me there is obviously something awry about setting your sights on the top no matter what your personal circumstances, and likewise something very awry about equating making it "to the top" with "success" and defining everyone else as "failures."

To some extent I can sympathize with the green-haired beatnik drop-out set who sneer at the go-getters. They're obviously correct that success defined as making it to the top will be an exercise in futility for the vast majority of people.

They err, however, in trivializing the sense of personal triumph that derives from making steady increments in whatever pursuit/s one dedicates himself to, even in the most competitive pursuits. The trick is to (a) choose pursuits more in line with your innate talents, because that way the increments will come thicker and faster, and (b) compare yourself to a subset of the entire field of competitors -- eg reducing your golf handicap from 20 to 10 is fantastic progress, but you won't feel like much of a success if you compare yourself to scratch players; on the other hand if your comparison set is the group of buddies you normally play with you can feel like a king.

What if you select a pursuit that isn't so inline with your innate talents as you thought? Even then all is not lost. If you truly enjoy it, then stick at it long enough to outlast the class you entered with, and you'll rank favorably against the incoming class of newbies however many years down the track. That's still something.

persona au gratin said...

It's interesting that not a single person in the comments at the NYT article buys Orszag's BS.
If the PTB arrogantly insist on feeding us the line that there isn't even any variation within groups, perhaps people will suspect their protestations are an aggressive defense against the fact of variation between them...well it's fun to imagine.

Anonymous said...

Yes, the only thing holding me back from becoming the next Tiger Woods in golf is lack of practice.

The fact that I'm a totally uncoordinated klutz with poor eyesight and poor fine muscle control and poor hand-eye coordination has nothing to do with the matter. I just need to practice more, and practice right!

(insert "roll-eyes" emoticon here)

androiduser said...

Indeed, it seems to be PC, not libertarian, to emphasize effort and discredit talent.

Anonymous said...

Actually the notion that you can produce anything with enough training is Socialist.

Anonymous said...

Anyone else finding Taki's new site hard on the eyes?

Laban said...

Mr Syed is great at attacking straw men. Part of his review of Jon Entine's Taboo :

Let us assume that these results have genetic causes. Is Entine entitled to conclude that blacks are naturally better athletes ? Well, no. All he is entitled to say is that East Africans are naturally better at distance running and West Africans are naturally better at sprinting and that whites are probably somewhere in the middle at both disciplines. So why make the further claim that "blacks" are naturally better at sprinting and distance running ?

As anon said, hard work and persistence, what my old headmaster called 'stickability', do seem to have a heritable component. Outside of sports you need that as well as IQ.

jack strocchi said...

Steve S. said:

Is it really too much to ask that people at the top of the pyramid in the U.S. talk to the rest of us like we are adults? Isn't it obvious that the answer to the question of what does it take to get to the top, nature or nurture, is: both?

The problem for is a certain assymetry in the ideological implications of the "nature v nurture" anthropological dispute.

Biological conservatives can freely admit the importance of imprinted culture (and frequently do, as Murray's work attests). Their theory does not require nurture to be impotent.

But sociological constructivists cannot for one moment allow inherited nature to have a real, decisive effect on the behaviour of humans. Because breeding habits are selective that would imply social tendency towards stratfication based on natural factors.

Which would be a devastating blow to liberal ideology.

I sympathise with the liberal dilemma as I dont much like the idea of a natural aristocracy or dynasty which lords it over the rest of us, purely by genetic luck combined with selective privileges of birth.

But, sad to say, thats the way the world works. And it can have a good effect, as in the case of the Bachs.

In any case, the liberal cure for this social ailment - Stalinist style thought policemen imposing a reign of political correctness - is probably worse than the disease.

Anonymous said...

sociological constructivists cannot for one moment allow inherited nature to have a real, decisive effect on the behaviour of humans. Because breeding habits are selective that would imply social tendency towards stratfication based on natural factors.

Which would be a devastating blow to liberal ideology.



When I looked into that abyss, it looked back into me and thats when I found I couldnt be the sort of liberal/sort of leftist I used to be!

Le Sigh said...

I don't understand the obsession with "making it to the top."

That's why you're at the bottom.

John Craig said...

Why the NY Times is referred to as "The Grey Lady":

http://justnotsaid.blogspot.com/2010/08/grey-lady.html

John Craig said...

The Victorians are laughed at today because of their squeamishness and misplaced sense of decency, which prevented them referring to a woman's leg, or acknowledging that women were sexual beings.

The PC types are nothing more than the New Victorians. Refer directly to IQ or its heritability? It's something that decent people simply don't do.

agnostic said...

You can't blame Orszag for not making reality checks -- he's an academic economist, so he's likely never met anyone with a real talent.

I worry not just about those who can't perform reality checks because they're cloistered in academia, but even if they're not, because they live in such a race and class-segregated world. They are completely naive and clueless about how those other worlds work.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous: The ability to work hard seems to be a heritable talent to at least some extent.

Laban: As anon said, hard work and persistence, what my old headmaster called 'stickability', do seem to have a heritable component.

My guess would be that these qualities correlate well with IQ.

And, as I have said here many times before, I think that there is probably a perfect correlation between IQ and "attention span", which ought to be very easy for psychometricians to measure [with nothing more than a stopwatch].

Anonymous said...

Possibly if one has natural talent for something he will find it rewarding to learn and will be more likely to spend 10000 hours doing it.

Anonymous said...

What is "The PC-Libertarian Conventional Wisdom Nexus"?

Anonymous said...

Silver makes a great point that for many purposes, it *is* a useful thing to emphasize the potential of effort. And that while it is undoubtedly true that the *top* performer is sure to be genetically blessed, an obsession with that fact can stop lots of people from achieving lots of great things and lots of satisfaction.

There is also a body of experiments in developmental psychology which apparently shows that emphasizing to kids the role of effort rather than talent promotes better scholastic outcomes (google Carol Dweck). I am not sure how robust those effects are, but some mechanism like that sounds pretty plausible.

But none of this refutes Steve's point about the annoyingly p.c. elements to Orszag and NYT.

Contemplationist said...

Yeah I'm puzzled yet again by the "libertarian" part of the title. No doubt that at least 50% of "regular" libertarians are PC but Goolsbee and Orzsag are not libertarians.

Anonymous said...

The notion that all children can succeed at school if they work hard enough is the general response I hear from teachers when asked why some children do better than others. If I ask that question in a one on one situation where there is no pressure on the teacher, they rarely blame the schools or resources.

I think one reason, is that it puts responsibility on the child (not them) and it leaves the door open to blame the parents.

Peter A said...

sociological constructivists cannot for one moment allow inherited nature to have a real, decisive effect on the behaviour of humans. Because breeding habits are selective that would imply social tendency towards stratfication based on natural factors.

Which would be a devastating blow to liberal ideology.


I suppose you could argue HBD actually provides support to a sort of Randian libertarianism that appears to believe, even if not stated explicitly, that some people are just naturally more talented and gifted and free markets are simply a tool to let these more talented people achieve their full expression, and everyone else should just try not to get in the way. However, as Steve is pointing out, it is devastating to the standard establishment version of libertarianism which believes in free movements of people, rational choice, etc. You can never have a truly free market in a complex society because smarter people will always form cartels of one sort or another and game the system to their advantage.

Kylie said...

jack strocchi said..."I sympathise with the liberal dilemma as I dont much like the idea of a natural aristocracy or dynasty which lords it over the rest of us, purely by genetic luck combined with selective privileges of birth."

Far worse is an unnatural aristocracy or dynasty which lords it over the rest of us, purely by genetic luck combined with the selctive privileges of birth.

Or don't you recognize a description of AA when you read it?

And: "But, sad to say, thats the way the world works. And it can have a good effect, as in the case of the Bachs."

Again far worse is the way the liberals have forced the West to work--and it's not really working. Do you really think a medicocrity like, say, Michelle "Thank-you" Obama deserved to be given a six-figure salary for a position that was eliminated when she left it? Surely you don't have the temerity to suggest that on merit alone she would have risen any higher than, say, managing the women's sportswear department of some retail outlet.

In all seriousness, why don't you much like the idea of a natural aristocracy? Are you really so brainwashed by liberal ideology that the luck of the draw dismays you more than the imposition of an obviously unjust system by liberal elites?

Ron Guhname said...

"The ability to work hard seems to be a heritable talent to at least some extent."

Right, about 50% heritable. I appreciate people pushing "work ethic" since it is a mainstream conservative position, but at the end of the day these guys are anti-science.

Anonymous said...

Nobody ever worked harder than Jussi Bjorling or his brother Gosta. Jussi was not only a professional singer at age 4 but the star of the show and support of his family at age 5.

Both he and Gosta sang together in the Bjorling Quartet for more than a decade and they were close their entire lives. They both learned to sing from their father. Jussi of course, had the most beautiful voice anyone had ever heard but was a stick on stage. He was stiff and impervious to direction. Still every opera house in the world wanted him on their stage.

Gosta sang at the Swedish National Opera until his death. He didn't have the magic voice of Jussi - he had a decent comprimario voice - but he was famed for his acting ability.

Voice is nature not nurture and so is acting.

Albertosaurus

Anonymous said...

When I looked into that abyss, I got married to the highest quality spouse available to me and started having children.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
Anyone else finding Taki's new site hard on the eyes?



Nah, I like Taki's redesign.

Anonymous said...

I don't think Orszag or Goolsbee have ever claimed to be libertarians.

The title of this post makes no sense. Same goes for the previous one.

Ward Cleaver said...

Already my first grader knows that he'll never be a professional athlete even with 10,000 hrs of practice.

Nonetheless, like the NYT editors, my duty is to constantly coax and encourage him to put in the effort.

Now go get yourselves a juicebox from the fridge and get back to work.

stari_momak said...

A Bayesian perspective is useful here. Given that someone is an olympia in table tennis, the probability that they have practiced 10,000 hrs is likely pretty high. Given that someone has practiced table tennis 10,000, the probability that person makes the olympics in Ping-Pong is still very low. We don't have 'much data' on this latter group precisely because they are 'failures'.

Wanderer said...

Lysenko is back! This time without all those onerous red flags in the background.

(Lysenko was the communist quack who demanded that, by effort, people could change their own genetic code.)

fred said...

Here is another sighting of the 10,000 hour rule, along with other Steve Sailer related topics:

http://www.spiegel.de/international/zeitgeist/0,1518,716614-2,00.html

Wanderer said...

Peter Orszag [the article writer], as a good Son of Israel, is following in the footsteps of Jewish academic tradition. Namely, aggressively browbeating us into believing "there are no inherent differences".

Why? Because of a paranoia about being rejected by the host society. Environmentalism (in the sociological sense) undermines romanticism in ethnocultural identitarianism. If taken to heart by their hosts, that is quite good for the Jews.

Robert said...

Doesn't enhanced IQ correlate with better impulse control, better ability to conceive of which goals are appropriate and how one's efforts could be better applied to reaching a particular goal?

In other words, wouldn't a man with a higher IQ be more likely to invest the appropriate amount of effort, keep going despite obstacles and adopt smarter tactics to make determined efforts worthwhile, compared to a man who knew less and reasoned worse? Higher IQ means better reasoning, which leads to more efficient expenditure of effort. Synergy, anyone?

Anonymous said...

In any case, the liberal cure for this social ailment - Stalinist style thought policemen imposing a reign of political correctness - is probably worse than the disease.

Why do you call it an "ailment"?

Stupid people don't realize that they're stupid.

Why not just let them go about their stupid, dumb, naive, carefree lives - the way they lived for millenia, going all the way back to the Garden of Eden [or shortly thereafter] - instead of instilling in them all sorts of bitternesss and resentment and aggrievement about it?

[That's a rhetorical question, by the way - I am well aware of how the, ah, "Bolsheviks" use the stupid as a means to an end.]

rob said...

Second, he shows how that evidence shatters widespread myths about what leads to better performance in any complex undertaking (including, for example, chess, tennis and math).

No. He did not do that. He investigated simple activities, for example, chess and tennis. I truly doubt he investigated people with a random sampling of mathematical aptitude.

If he actually investigated math, he probably looked into gimmicky things like solving problems for an audience.

Fourier didn't get a book on Fourier transforms and study the hell out of it for 10K hours. We know this because there were no such books for him to study. How did Fourier ever develop the Fourier transform?

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with TGGP, I don't see a lot of libertarians ( Or any for that matter ) in the MSM. Steve, that would be my one question to you, why are you so concerned with a minority's minority? The Republicans after 2008 were at a low ebb, and libertarians were probably the most ignored sub-group within the whole Republican-Conservative movement during the administration of Bush II, and yet you spend an inordinate amount of time attacking them and blaming them for the Left's views on immigration.


The New Left which now runs this countries' institutions would have embraced illegal immigration regardless of the presence or absence of libertarians in my view. Perhaps things are different in Southern California, but in most of the rest of the country a majority of ordinary people wouldn't even know what a libertarian is, much less be influenced by any libertarian views on immigration. I live in a fairly good-sized Midwestern metropolitan area ( OK, Cleveland ) and this was demonstrated to me very recently by the local media. One of the local afternoon rush hour DJ's who is popular in these parts was discussing the fact that Drew Carey was coming home to address the city council and get them to implement more libertarian like economic policies to rejuvenate the city. This DJ who both intelligent and fairly well read didn't even know what a libertarian was exactly. He thought it was some type of strange leftist ( perhaps confusing it with anarchism, maybe? ).

dearieme said...

“in this life we get nothing save by effort”: ho hum. On the whole I've found that lots of things come easily to me. Because of that, I dare say, I've tended to enjoy them, and, naturally I've avoided activities that don't come easily. I'm damned if I see any merit in a loopy puritan creed that asserts that I should work manfully at something I'm no bloody good at. I leave it to people who are good at it. For what it's worth, the people I've known who have been particularly successful beyond their general merits seem to me often to be people who are lucky enough to have high but narrow ability at something-or-other that happens to be in demand at the right stage in their lives.

Anonymous said...

Not to put words in his mouth, but what Steve means by "PC Libertarian" is someone who pays lip service to market ideals while moving leftwards with all due haste on other policies.

The "PC Libertarian" is an adaptation to the fact that outright communism is discredited, in the narrow sense. It is discredited in the narrow sense because while people are affirmatively prohibited from learning about what transpired under communism, they nevertheless still have some kind of vague folk memory that it was bad and a failure.

Hence people cannot self-label themselves communists and be taken seriously. Hence the decision to re-package leftism in a superficially market friendly format, which Steve dubs "PC Libertarianism".

It is from this unholy source from whence monstrosities like the "Chief Diversity Officer" and "Cap and Trade" arise.

It is these individuals who loudly proclaim that illegal aliens "came here to work" and who burble about affordable mortgages and student loans.

It is a Trojan Horse ideology, leftism with the superficial trappings of the right, because that folk memory is only sufficient to identify the surface antigens of communism and not the substance.

Contrast this to Nazism; what is the relative name recognition of Mengele and Lysenko, for example? If the latter had even 20% in the US, No Child Left Behind would never have happened.

PC Libertarianism is a most dangerous creature because its unchecked enthusiasms threaten to cause a generational discrediting of capitalism. And of course that is the real goal.

David said...

stari_momak is right.

David said...

Libertarians have an ideological influence beyond their official political power (negligible) and numbers (puny).

Look at Alan Greenspan. Note also that, as I've seen claimed, a large number of economists (those official types associated with think tanks) are much more macroeconomical and libertarian in their assumptions and nostrums than they were 40 or 50 years ago.

Who were the smart guys in the room advising the wonks to pass Gramm–Leach–Bliley Act, or provide pseudo-scientific justification for it anyway?

Of course, there is a line of argument that only ideologically pure "perfect" libertarians are libertarians. Which is like saying the Soviets weren't really Marxists.

David said...

And the pure "real" libertarians are no better. This economist even considers the "libertarian" label an insult - because it isn't pure enough.

Read the link and tell me

a. this isn't race flat-earthism dressed up in rightist language

b. this long-time associate of Rothbard, Rand, and (to a lesser extent) Greenspan isn't really a libertarian (despite his disavowal of the label).

Libertarianism is just PC in rightist drag.

Ray Sawhill said...

Something I run into fairly often but don't see raised in these discussions much: What if you don't enjoy what you're naturally good at? And what if do enjoy activities (and fields) you're not much good at?

This doesn't seem to me to be an uncommon predicament, so I'm puzzled that it isn't recognized more freely as one of life's big complicating factors.

Felix said...

Steve, why do you insist on placing the blame for the elites' agenda on innocuous ignorance rather than on pure malice? Doing so is as silly as maintaining that the reason black students underperform is due to bad teachers. Any bum off the street will tell you it takes both talent and effort to succeed at the top, and Peter Orszag knows this as well, unless you really believe him to be clinically retarded. I just don't understand why you play this whole naivete routine like what's happening to the United States/West is due to our elites just not being as smart as the average Isteve reader. lol.

Kylie said...

Ward Cleaver said..."Already my first grader knows that he'll never be a professional athlete even with 10,000 hrs of practice.

Nonetheless, like the NYT editors, my duty is to constantly coax and encourage him to put in the effort.

Now go get yourselves a juicebox from the fridge and get back to work."

Well said, Ward. I wish you could have prevailed on Mr. Rutherford to take the same tack with Lumpy, I mean, Clarence.

You do your best to work with what you've got. There is excellence in perserverance, after all. (Of course, there's also excellence in knowing when to perservere and when to give it up as a bad job and find something you have some hope of doing well.)

SFG said...

"(Lysenko was the communist quack who demanded that, by effort, people could change their own genetic code.)"

Actually, it was worse than that. He decided that *plants* would grow according to socialist principles. They planted lots of seeds close together so they could help each other grow (competition was capitalist). Result: famines, and lots and lots (this is Russia) and lots of dead people.

"If the latter had even 20% in the US, No Child Left Behind would never have happened. "
I wish. The real problem is that H-BD, even when applied within races, is a non-optimistic ideology that states that you can't just get everyone to perform equally even by hard work. It is profoundly un-American, even if it's true, because it denies optimism and perfectibility. We have our own national myths, and they conflict with h-bd, even if they're not as nasty as the commie or nazi ones.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Sailer speaks so much truth. It's depressing. Everyday, blacks commit crimes and engage in terrible anti-social behavior and often against whites and asians. Of course, none of this gets media coverage because it doesn't fit the set-media-marrative of black victimization.

Darwin's Sh*tlist said...

Is it too reductionist to say that, with respect to a given endeavor, nature provides the upper limit and how quickly it can be attained, and nurture/environment determine how far up the learning curve someone will actually go?

Anonymous said...

Hence the decision to re-package leftism in a superficially market friendly format, which Steve dubs "PC Libertarianism".

Do you have a link to such a post? I'm a fairly regular reader and this is the first mention of "PC Libertarianism" I've seen.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Sailer speaks so much truth that it's no longer an active pursuit! The truth just rolls off the tip of his fingers onto the keyboard! It's so easy for him.

The MSM which struggles to tell the truth deserves even more praise for the few times it actually tells it like it is!

Fred said...

"Or how about future Hall of Fame manager Tommy Lasorda's failure to make it as major leaguer despite an excellent minor league record? Lasorda pitched only 58 innings with a terrible 6.48 ERA in the Show during a playing career lasting from 1945-1960. I guess he just didn't bleed Dodger Blue enough or he would have made it in the big leagues. His failure to make it in the big leagues couldn't have had anything to do with his lack of innate physical talent."

If you want more counter-examples, try just about any NFL coach who hasn't played in the pros (i.e., most of them). They all have insane work ethics as coaches, and they had the same work ethics as college players. They advanced as athletes up to the level of their physical potential.

What's more baffling about elites peddling this 10,000 hours nonsense is that they personally know plenty of people who have succeeded due mainly to connections or preferences. Was it 10,000 hours of hard practice in African American literature that got Ruth Simmons a directorship at Goldman Sachs? Was it 10,000 hours of hard practice that got all four of Harry Reid's sons lucrative lobbyist jobs?

Severn said...

it seems to be PC, not libertarian, to emphasize effort and discredit talent.


No, it's not really. One of the underlying assumptions of libertarianism is that people are more or less equal in their abilities. So the poor are seen as moral failures. We could all be John Galt, if we only read and understood the teachings of Ayn Rand.

So goes the theory at any rate.

AmericanGoy said...

Kylie said...
"In all seriousness, why don't you much like the idea of a natural aristocracy?"

Oh, people like the Clintons and the Bushes and the Cheneys and the Rahms? (they are all in it together, I fail to spot any major differences between them).

I am not a big fan of slavery, apparently many Americans ARE as what I see at work everyday seems to prove.

Anonymous said...

As a libertarian/ancap let me add my voice to the chorus: What's this got to do with Libertarian attitudes/beliefs.

One of the reason I'm an ancap is because folks have different talents and abilities and a government with a geographic monopoly on the use of force is ill-suited to allow each individual achieve his or her specific goals.

Eric said...

The trick these people play is in their term of art "dedicated practice," which is used to make their argument unfalsifiable.

In that he's no different from an old-time tent-revival faith healer. I laid hands on you and we prayed. If you can't walk it's because your faith isn't strong enough.

ATBOTL said...

It's somewhat refreshing how much more common sense the NYT's readers have than it's writers.

I still don't understand how virtually 100% of our elites are so clueless.

Kylie said...

American Goy said..."Oh, people like the Clintons and the Bushes and the Cheneys and the Rahms? (they are all in it together, I fail to spot any major differences between them)."

I don't know who the Rahms are but much as I loathe Hillary, Bill, W and Dick, I think they are all above average in intelligence. Both Clintons, vile as they are, are terribly bright.

I know intelligence isn't everything. But we are always going to have the ideologically driven and morally corrupt in politics. Add general stupidity to the mix and we'll go down the tubes even faster. Higher education really needs to be for the educable to learn, not for the ineducable to increase their self-esteem.

Anonymous said...

Peter Orzag, could you please give us the names of some big shots in your field who you believe have/had average or below average IQ's yet overcame the "talent myth" by putting in 10,000 + hours?

OK, I see you're not able to come up with any names. Let's see... How about some professors who each economics with whom you're familiar enough with to assess their intelligence?

Still can't think of any? Hmm... This is one tricky myth! Perhaps if you put in 10,000 hours thinking about it you will figure it out and bring us some names. Please get back to us.

Silver said...

Darwin's,

Is it too reductionist to say that, with respect to a given endeavor, nature provides the upper limit and how quickly it can be attained, and nurture/environment determine how far up the learning curve someone will actually go?


Remember, you're dealing with people's lives here. So I would argue you owe people a duty of care in the way you frame biological issues. To that end I'd say you're technically correct but your point "risks being too reductionist."

The problem is believing in a "fixed nature" itself becomes a limiting factor, and one whose mind wallows in it will readily interpret the slightest frustration or setback as "proof" that he's just not cut out for some task, leading him to give up in despair.

Take Sailer's comment here a few years back that he wouldn't make a good [whatever it was] because he was afraid of heights. Well, what does that mean "afraid of heights"? Who isn't? Does Sailer know exactly where he stands in relation to all others who admit a fear of heights? Perhaps he's in the range of those who are most suited to overcoming it. He's not going to be terribly motivated to find out if he declares himself "afraid" for all time, clearly.

Silver said...

(cont'd)

Another example. Years ago I taught a friend the addition of fractions. Was not easy going. "How dumb can a guy be?" I thought to myself. But I persevered. Eventually, a gleam of light evidently shone through and he expressed unabashed jubilation that he could actually perform the task (rather than merely guessing at it), and thanked me profusely for patiently taking my time with him, which, by his account, no one had ever done. Sure, that guy wasn't going to go on to figure out derivatives and integrals all on his own (how many of us would?), but adding fractions is very useful real world skill, and when you get down to it, why the hell does it matter that it takes some people twenty times as long as others to get it?

Now this guy could take an engine apart and put it back together, so he had something going on upstairs. Seems it just required removing a few mental blocks before the path could be cleared for him to begin to ascend to the limits of his potential (if he chose to).

Talking about engines, I never feel like such an idiot as when a group of guys lifts up the bonnet and peers at what lies underneath it. I don't have the faintest idea of what I'm looking at (because I've always considered it bor-ring). And because I've always felt so far behind the pack, the impulse has been to protect my ego and not even bother to begin finding out -- why try, and risk learning that you're an idiot when the possibility that you could learn if you tried is so much more comforting? Say I started learning about engines and car parts etc. Then I attempt to engage a car guy in conversation. They eat, drink and sleep that stuff so it'll quickly become obvious that I don't know what I'm talking about. Then you feel like an idiot again and quit in disgust.

So, to wrap it up, yes, three cheers for HBD and all that. But let's not neglect the environmental factors that are ever in effect.

N Ackerman said...

Mathew Syed also wrote about the James Watson controversy. Although from a pc angle.

Let's not cower from the hard truth about race and IQ

Anonymous said...

If in this particular instance Steve is discussing a libertarian version of modern leftism, then I guess I understand that. But I get the impression that he and a lot of the posters on this site have some deep seated antipathy towards libertarians.

OK, David, I guess Alan Greenspan is sort of one, but not in the conventional sense. Greenspan's libertarian views are pretty idiosyncratic, being shaped by both Ayn Rand ( Who I get the impression is disdained by most libertarian intellectuals ) and his long association with private economic forecasting on Wall Street. He's not your typical libertarian in the sense of an academic or policy economist/wonk working for a university or think tank.

Regarding the fact that most economists are further to the right than 40-50 years ago, Yes I agree with that, but that might have something to do with the collapse of communism, the failures of the welfare state in the US, and the growing disillusionment with government aid to the " developing nations " which has produced nothing but stagnation in the Third World.
So I hope economists are not the wild eyed dreamers they were from say 1945-70, when they thought they could "manage" an economy or even a society with programs running on a mainframe computer.

Anonymous said...

Steve's issue is with liberaltarians like Will Wilkinson who are wild eyed supporters of open borders. I don't think he has any beef with Ron or Rand Paul, who are amazing.

Anonymous said...

"As a libertarian/ancap let me add my voice to the chorus: What's this got to do with Libertarian attitudes/beliefs."

What are you, simple? Your open borders, pro-immigrant lunacy in the name of "freedom", has everything to do with Libertarian attitudes/beliefs. Ancaps are the worst of the worst in that regard.

"One of the reason I'm an ancap is because folks have different talents and abilities and a government with a geographic monopoly on the use of force is ill-suited to allow each individual achieve his or her specific goals."

Competing "government services" within the same geographical area is just fancy ancap jargon for Somalia, dude. Ancap is great for allowing each individual to "achieve his or her specific goals", if said specific individual is a warlord or a pirate and his specific goals are raping, pillaging, and the like. Otherwise, not so much fun for the rest of the population.

"Spontaneous emergence of market forces" in such anarchistic situations start to look more and more like a proper State (as started to happen in Somalia with the Islamic Courts Union before the USA intervened with Ethiopian troops), so the end result of "anarcho-capitalism" will be the re-emergence of the State, not its abolition. Nature abhors a vacuum and human nature abhors anarchy.

People don't want to live in a chaos of no government. Uncontrolled immigration has turned parts of the USA into lawless zones much worse off than what you would have with a "monopolistic" government. It has enriched a tiny elite while depressing the wages and standard of living of everyone else. Governments were created to keep people out for the very good reason that not everyone operates at the same level - States and their borders are a necessary firewall. Libertarianism and anarcho-capitalism destroys that.

Why can't you get it into your blinkered mind that a State is simply a collective ownership of government services that don't work well in a anarchistic "free market" and that said government services actually create the conditions (the social and government infrastructure) for a much better run, more productive "free market" than could ever be achieved by no government, that is to say, the much theorized but never actually seen ancap idea of an anarchy of "competition for government services" resulting in "market efficiency" and "freedom".

The Mafia competed for government services; say what you will about the deficiencies of the State but when given a choice people prefer even a dysfunctional State to the kind of "market freedoms" that the Mafia or the Warlords offer.

You don't see why your open borders lunacy is precisely the "PC-Libertarian Conventional Wisdom Nexus" that Steve is talking about? Ancaps and libertarians are incredibly PC in their assumptions; they just try to leverage PC dogmas into servicing their "free market" fantasies.

Siding with Nurture over Nature and reducing everything to "you should try harder, train better" is also one area where leftist and libertarian thinking is practically identical. Libertarians may in theory accept Nature and natural ability but in practice they prefer to pretend otherwise since the practical implications of acknowledging HBD undermines libertarian assumptions about "freedom". Most people will not be "winners" under a libertarian or ancap system, contra the libertarian "happy talk".

Matt said...

Isn't it obvious that the answer to the question of what does it take to get to the top, nature or nurture, is: both?

Well, either one of these would be the simpler hypothesis, so would be superior by the principle of parsimony (Occam's Razor). That's why the debate was originally phrased in either/or terms. But it is silly that this kind of thing persists to the present day.

Bob said...

The issue with libertarians is they want to structure society as if everyone were prudent high IQ aspies like them.

Legalize all drugs? Sure why not, tons of people at college did all sorts of drugs, none became addicts.

Free trade? Of course the millions of American factory works we toss out of the job will find something just as good. Heck when my start-up failed I was bummed out for a month, but then I learned Ruby on Rails and get an even better programming job at another.

Get rid of Social Security? But of course, everyone in America has the ability to save 13% of their income and invest it prudently. We'll never have hoards of elderly beggars freezing to death on the street.

Public schools? Don't need 'em, everyone I know cares about the education of their children enough to pay $4000 and up per year each for it.

Our borders? Open them up, the people we let in from Mexico and Africa will do just as well as the native population of the USA.

DAJ said...

Do you really think a medicocrity like, say, Michelle "Thank-you" Obama deserved to be given a six-figure salary for a position that was eliminated when she left it? Surely you don't have the temerity to suggest that on merit alone she would have risen any higher than, say, managing the women's sportswear department of some retail outlet.

Clearly, the First Lady benefited from Affirmative Action. Yet, she did pass the bar examination (though on her second try). With this fact in hand, I will argue that she was indeed smart enough to work at a higher position than a sportswear department manager. She ipso facto merited a job as an attorney after passing the bar (most likely for a non-prestigious law firm or government).

headache said...

ATBOTL said...
I still don't understand how virtually 100% of our elites are so clueless.

I don't agree with the notion that the elite is clueless. I think they are deliberate in what they do. They know it hurts us, yet they are adamant about getting their agenda through, and merely act like they are intelligent but clueless, or idealistic and basically like fools in order to distract and confuse us.

texas first! said...

The Mafia competed for government services; say what you will about the deficiencies of the State but when given a choice people prefer even a dysfunctional State to the kind of "market freedoms" that the Mafia or the Warlords offer.

I say "bring the chaos!" Obviously the Corporate/Financial Oligarchy has no intention of closing the border or it would be closed.

Kylie said...

DAJ said..."Clearly, the First Lady benefited from Affirmative Action. Yet, she did pass the bar examination (though on her second try). With this fact in hand, I will argue that she was indeed smart enough to work at a higher position than a sportswear department manager. She ipso facto merited a job as an attorney after passing the bar (most likely for a non-prestigious law firm or government)."

Good point. Thanks for the correction.

Yes, I agree she merited a job as an attorney for a non-prestigious law firm, albeit the kind that would have its offices next to a retail outlet.

I tend to think Ivy League/law-school/prestigious law firm, totally forgetting the more usual result--the kind of attorney my husband and I saw about a renter's dispute. She had her office next to a sandwich shop, I think, or maybe it was a shoe store. I can see M. Thank-You in a law office like that.

ATBOTL said...

"Public schools? Don't need 'em, everyone I know cares about the education of their children enough to pay $4000 and up per year each for it."

$4000? Where the hell do you live? In NYC, it's more like $20,000 and up.

David said...

Of course libertarianism abominates closed borders on principle. After all, who are you to interfere with the economic transactions of free individuals? Negative externalities? What are you, a racist?

If closed borders are compatible with libertarianism, then the following immediately defect from the movement:

- Ludwig von Mises

- George Reisman

- all the Objectivists (granted, they claim to hate libertarianism)

- most libertarian speakers and writers (the anarchist Hoppe being a notable exception)

- all the libertarian think-tankers and policy wonks.

Who would remain in the ranks? Which "libertarians" would be comfortable with closed borders?

The Pauls (before the right audience), Hoppe, and your local Tea Party Palinite politico otherwise falling over himself to praise MLK (and who was a Repub or Demo not long ago and maybe still is).

Try to run closed borders by these people. But maybe Reason magazine isn't "really" libertarian. Just like Pravda wasn't "really" Marxist.

none of the above said...

There's a world of difference between being competent at something and being world class at it. Both depend on nature and nurture together, but the set of people who can be a world class musician is way smaller than the set of people who can become a competent musician.

The critical question to ask is always whether you're trying to become competent or world class. Few people can become famous novelists or poets, but most everyone of reasonable intelligence can learn to write clearly and to follow the rules of grammar. Few can become world-class mathematicians, but smart people can learn calculus or statistics well enough to productively use them. And so on.

josh said...

It's not that Yao Ming had to work really hard to become gigantic, but that he has to work really hard to stay gigantic. Don't these guys get it.

dearieme said...

Ray says ".. What if you don't enjoy what you're naturally good at?" One blogger whom I follow on football (soccer) says that it's fairly common for top players not to be much interested in the game, even to not much enjoy playing it. But the pay packets are so big that they persevere, bless 'em.

"And what if do enjoy activities (and fields) you're not much good at?" You join the local am dram society, or pub soccer side, or village cricket team, or rugby club. If your cricket is so bad that you can't get a game, become the scorer.

Baloo said...

FWIW, I'm a closed-border libertarian. And as such, I get away with putting stuff like THIS up on a libertarian website.

Anonymous said...

I don't agree with the notion that the elite is clueless. I think they are deliberate in what they do. They know it hurts us, yet they are adamant about getting their agenda through, and merely act like they are intelligent but clueless, or idealistic and basically like fools in order to distract and confuse us.

Seems to me that the actual elite are largely silent on these matters. They rarely extol the virtues of mass immigration. After all they have a vast army of anarchists, anti-globalists, leftists, liberals, anti-fascists and various other speakers-of-truth-to-power to do it for them. All eager to outdo each other in sticking it to The Man.

This allows The Man to look down upon them with amused, indulgent smile.

Anonymous said...

Wow, this might be the most boring article I ever read. Do you people actually read this stuff for pleasure or is it because some dork sent you an email tricking you by saying it's about baseball?

Anonymous said...

It is a better analogy to say that everyone is born with a distribution of possible achievement, with varying means. Typically higher means also have higher standard deviations.