The cause of the decline

Lately there as been a lot of concern about the increasingly visible decline of the west, notably Peter Thiel on “The  End of the Future”:

… we are undergoing cultural decay — ranging from the collapse  of art and literature after 1945 to the soft totalitarianism of  political correctness in media and academia to the sordid worlds  of reality television and popular entertainment

… how do we even know whether the so-called scientists are not just lawmakers and politicians in disguise, as some conservatives suspect in fields as disparate as climate change,  evolutionary biology, and embryonic-stem-cell research, and as I have come to suspect in almost all fields?

When tracked against the admittedly lofty hopes of the 1950s  and 1960s, technological progress has fallen short in many domains. Consider the most literal instance of non-acceleration:   We are no longer moving faster. The centuries-long acceleration of travel speeds — from ever-faster sailing ships in the 16th through 18th centuries, to the advent of ever-faster railroads  in the 19th century, and ever-faster cars and airplanes in the 20th century — reversed with the decommissioning of the Concorde  in 2003, to say nothing of the nightmarish delays caused by strikingly low-tech post-9/11 airport-security systems. …

… One cannot in good conscience encourage an undergraduate in 2011 to study nuclear engineering as a career.…

… In the next three years, the large pharmaceutical companies will lose approximately one third of their current revenue stream as patents expire, so, in a perverse yet understandable response, they have begun the wholesale liquidation of the research departments that have borne so little fruit in the last decade and  a half.

The single most important economic development in recent times has been the broad stagnation of real wages and incomes since 1973, …

Incomes, stalled since 1973, are now falling, across the board, afflicting all income quintiles, with no end in sight. Japan has been in decline for over a decade. There is no reason to think that this decline will end until its causes are remedied – and if never remedied, we may well wind up like so many vanished civilizations before us.

Since the decline effects all of society, every aspect of society, we have the luxury of looking of looking for causes where the light is best.

Let us look at three well studied instances of decline:   the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion, Wikipedia, and Washington Mutual.  I did not select these cases because they all support my thesis, but because they are conspicuous and good information is available for what went wrong.

  1. The space Shuttle Explosion

    Low ranking engineers explained to their superiors in detail that the Challenger would explode if launched in cold weather and explained in detail how and why it would explode, but the high ranking “engineers” neither understood nor believed.

    Chairman Rogers: Well, let’s read it. “Loss of mission” – this is actual loss.

    “Failure effects summary: Actual loss. Loss of mission, vehicle and crew due to metal erosion, burn-through, and probable case burst, resulting in fire and deflagration.”


    Mr. Mulloy: But about halfway through, after we had looked at all of the data, the conclusion and recommendation charts that Mr. Lundhad prepared came in and the logic for his recommendation, which did not specifically address don’t launch 51-L, what itsaid was that, within our experience base we should not operate any solid rocket motor at any temperature colder than we have previously operated one, which was 51-C.

    Chairman Rogers: Didn’t you take that to be a negative recommendation?

    Mr. Mulloy: Yes, sir. That was an engineering conclusion, which I found this conclusion without basis and I challenged its logic.

    Mulloy then repeats over and over again that he was not able to understand the explanation of why the shuttle was going to blow up, from which he concluded not that he was an idiot, but the engineers telling him it was going to blow up were idiots.

    “And this was a rather surprising conclusion, based upon data that didn’t seem to hang together, and so I challenged that.”

    Further, in describing how it did blow, he reveals he still does not understand the explanation of how it did blow up. In other words, he is an idiot, and, being too stupid to understand why the space shuttle was going to explode, and not wanting to believe it was going to explode, insisted on it being launched. Mulloy not only did not understand why the space shuttle was going to explode, but after it exploded, and the cause of the explosion had been found, studied, and explained again step by step, still did not understand how it exploded.

    So how is it that Mr Mulloy, and people like him, who do not know $#!% shit from beans, are in charge of people who knew and understood stuff?

  2. Wikipedia

    Wikipedia has less information, and less useful information, than it used to.  This reflects its policy of presenting the official view on everything.  Where there is no official view, facts tend to get deleted as unsupported, or not encyclopedic, or some such.  Truth and knowledge is supposedly what comes from universities and the mainstream media.  If not in the universities or the mainstream media, is supposedly not truth. This leads to particularly bitter contention in political fields like climate science, evolutionary psychology, race, and Darwinism, but causes widespread damage in many non political fields, for example on computer science, since the vast majority of computer science knowledge is not academic.

    Contributors are instructed:  “Wikipedia is an encyclopedic reference, not an instruction manual, guidebook, or textbook. Wikipedia articles should not read like … instruction manuals. ”

    When I look something up related to computer science, it is normally because I am working on a project, and need to know how to do something, so I need something that reads like an instruction manual, guidebook, or textbook.  Further, anyone who knows computer science stuff is usually an engineer, so is apt to write like a textbook or instruction manual.  The effect and application of the not-a-manual rule is to prohibit contributions from people who actually do stuff, which contributions they intend to share with other people who actually do stuff, in favor of contributions by people who do not do stuff, and are incapable of doing stuff – which is to say, in favor of academic knowledge.

  3. Washington Mutual

    Washington Mutual was able to take over many other better run banks, not because shareholders had confidence in Washington Mutual, but because regulators had confidence in Washington Mutual willingness to enthusiastically hurl vast amounts of money in the general direction of desired voting blocks. Kerry Killinger, CEO of Washington Mutual, became rich and powerful in substantial part through his cozy relationship with left wing activist organizations such as Acorn, which enabled him to control regulators as much as it reflected the fact that regulators controlled him.

    Washington Mutual took out ads condemning themselves for racism, and was given a bunch of other, more soberly run banks, to loot and destroy.

    Banks were told by regulators: “Lack of credit history should not be seen as a negative factor … In reviewing past credit problems,  lenders should be willing to consider extenuating circumstance”

    If a bank prevented people with no credit history from borrowing, this was a practice with “disparate impact” – which is “Raaaacism”. “Disparate impact” means you cannot apply standards at which non Asian minorities fail disproportionately – such as having documented income, a past history of paying their bills, and so on and so forth.

    When your regulator tells you that you “should” make easy money loans, you will make easy money loans, or suffer dire punishment.  And indeed, banks that did not make easy money loans did suffer dire punishment – they got taken over by Washington Mutual and its merry band of idiots.

    It is clear that Kerry Killinger and Angelo Mozilo sincerely believed that lending unemployed no-hablo-english wetbacks money to buy million dollar houses no money down was a good idea. They conned everyone of gigantic amounts of money, but their biggest victims were themselves and their banks.

    They did not pretend to believe in order to become rich and powerful, rather the regulatory apparatus efficiently selected stupid people who sincerely believed stupid things to become rich and powerful. If their beliefs had been feigned and cynical, a lot more of the disappeared money would have stuck to them.

    That Kerry Killinger was quite genuinely stupid was also demonstrated by the inability of Countrywide and Washington Mutual to manage their paperwork. Many of the titles that passed through their hands now have no paper trail showing who is the rightful owner, which suggests that bank was for the most part staffed by people whose IQ was below 105.

    Because political correctness requires stupid beliefs, selection for people who are sincerely politically correct, such as Kerry Killinger, selects stupid people, who in turn hire and promote other stupid people, so that no one in his bank could do a banker’s paperwork.

This is consistent with Codevilla’s analysis:  That that we are ruled by a ruling elite, credentialed but not educated by the very best universities, that is increasing narrow, ignorant, out of touch, and stupid!

Today’s ruling class, from Boston to San Diego, was formed by an educational system that exposed them to the same ideas and gave them remarkably uniform guidance, as well as tastes and habits. These amount to a social canon of judgments about good and evil, complete with secular sacred history, sins (against minorities and the environment), and saints. Using the right words and avoiding the wrong ones when referring to such matters – speaking the “in” language – serves as a badge of identity. Regardless of what business or profession they are in, their road up included government channels and government money because, as government has grown, its boundary with the rest of American life has become indistinct. Many began their careers in government and leveraged their way into the private sector. Some, e.g., Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner, never held a non-government job. Hence whether formally in government, out of it, or halfway, America’s ruling class speaks the language and has the tastes, habits, and tools of bureaucrats. …

…regardless of where they live, their social-intellectual circle includes people in the lucrative “nonprofit” and “philanthropic” sectors and public policy. What really distinguishes these privileged people demographically is that, whether in government power directly or as officers in companies, their careers and fortunes depend on government.…

Professional prominence or position will not secure a place in the class any more than mere money. In fact, it is possible to be an official of a major corporation or a member of the U.S. Supreme Court (just ask Justice Clarence Thomas), or even president (Ronald Reagan), and not be taken seriously by the ruling class. Like a fraternity, this class requires above all comity – being in with the right people, giving the required signs that one is on the right side, and joining in despising the Outs.…

Much less does membership in the ruling class depend on high academic achievement. … But didn’t our [ruling elite] go to Harvard and Princeton and Stanford? Didn’t most of them get good grades?  … getting into America’s “top schools” is less a matter of passing exams than of showing up with acceptable grades and an attractive social profile. American secondary schools are generous with their As. Since the 1970s, it has been virtually impossible to flunk out of American colleges. And it is an open secret that “the best” colleges require the least work and give out the highest grade point averages. No, our ruling class recruits and renews itself not through meritocracy but rather by taking into itself people whose most prominent feature is their commitment to fit in. The most successful neither write books and papers that stand up to criticism nor release their academic records. Thus does our ruling class stunt itself through negative selection. But the more it has dumbed itself down, the more it has defined itself by the presumption of intellectual superiority.

We have statistical evidence that our ruling elite selects people who fit in at the expense of ability – that people who are excessively able in unappreciated ways do not fit in.

Participation in such Red State activities as high school ROTC, 4-H clubs, or the Future Farmers of America was found to reduce very substantially a student’s chances of gaining admission to the competitive private colleges in the NSCE database on an all-other-things-considered basis. The admissions disadvantage was greatest for those in leadership positions in these activities or those winning honors and awards. “Being an officer or winning awards” for such career-oriented activities as junior ROTC, 4-H, or Future Farmers of America, say Espenshade and Radford, “has a significantly negative association with admission outcomes at highly selective institutions.” Excelling in these activities “is associated with 60 or 65 percent lower odds of admission.”

all other things being equal, being an officer in the ROTC is likely to get you excluded from a prestigious university – any fool can see that political correctness counts more than ability or experience – whether in college admissions, or Obama’s picks for the federal reserve, or the post of CEO of HP, people are chosen primarily for their theology not their ability.

Codevilla continues:

Laws and regulations nowadays are longer than ever because length is needed to specify how people will be treated unequally. For example, the health care bill of 2010 takes more than 2,700 pages to make sure not just that some states will be treated differently from others because their senators offered key political support, but more importantly to codify bargains between the government and various parts of the health care industry, state governments, and large employers about who would receive what benefits (e.g., public employee unions and auto workers) and who would pass what amounts to indirect taxes onto the general public. The financial regulation bill of 2010, far from setting unequivocal rules for the entire financial industry in few words, spends some 3,000 pages (at this writing) tilting the field exquisitely toward some and away from others. Even more significantly, these and other products of Democratic and Republican administrations and Congresses empower countless boards and commissions arbitrarily to protect some persons and companies, while ruining others. Thus in 2008 the Republican administration first bailed out Bear Stearns, then let Lehman Brothers sink in the ensuing panic, but then rescued Goldman Sachs by infusing cash into its principal debtor, AIG. Then, its Democratic successor used similarly naked discretionary power (and money appropriated for another purpose) to give major stakes in the auto industry to labor unions that support it. Nowadays, the members of our ruling class admit that they do not read the laws. They don’t have to. Because modern laws are primarily grants of discretion, all anybody has to know about them is whom they empower.

This means that there really is no private enterprise any more. Everything is to a greater or lesser extent run by the ruling elite – and the ruling elite is not very bright, and is steadily getting dumber.

If someone is important and under pressure to perform (perhaps the board, being composed of major shareholders, wants the CEO to make a profit and will fire him if he does not) he will surround himself with the smartest people he can get – the Google policy. But if he is under no pressure to perform, he will prefer that those lower in status than him are not quite as bright as he is, other wise he is apt to find himself in the uncomfortable position of Mr Mulloy, wherein a low status person explains why he is wrong about something, and he fails to understand the explanation. Since our ruling elite exclusively works in fields where there is no pressure to perform it naturally finds itself more comfortable inducting new members of the ruling elite that are dumber than the existing members, so that with each generation, our ruling elite gets stupider and stupider. Once upon a time, the ruling elite was kept smart by the continual infusion of smart people from business, and was prevented from declining by an hereditary elite, but now, completely self enclosed, and under no pressure to perform, a purported meritocracy by slow degrees becomes an idiocracy.

I predict that wherever membership of the government bureaucracy is controlled by some meritocratic test, the test will be subverted to that it no longer has much to do with intelligence, because bureaucrats do not much like smart people.

Observe that even at Google, though they get the smartest engineers that they can, they have a very different policy for other parts of the company. Those that might have to deal with the state, are selected to fit in, and if you are dangerously smart, you are unlikely to fit in.

We are in decay because the our ruling elite, including our top scientists (who are not really scientists, but rather a priesthood who preach pseudo scientific rationales for whatever our rulers desire to do), are steadily getting dumber and dumber.

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12 Responses to “The cause of the decline”

  1. PRCalDude says:

    The part about travel is interesting. From the 50s onward, we were promised a plane in every driveway. You can see a working model in the San Diego aerospace museum. Half a century later, Popular Science is still talking about flying cars even though air travel has gotten slower because of the TSA.

    The Romans and Mongols were great builders of roads (or were at least good at keeping existing ones safe). The same was true for state and federal governments. But if you look at places like California, the roads are getting so bad you wonder where all that tax money is going and whether government can support its basic function, though there is always money for more prisons.

    I looked at the budget, and prisons, K-12 edumacashion, and health and human services eat up close to $100 billion in the general fund while the general fund only takes in $88 billion. I’d wager that 75% of these funds are spent directly on the Mexicans given their percentage in prisons, K-12, and free Medi-Cal.

    Transportation makes up only $600 million. Goverment is about $3 billion, so it’s not even that bad compared to feeding, edumacating, housing, and jailing the Mexicans.

    This is how it ends.

    • jim says:

      Most California government expenditure is straight transfer from the old people to the new people.

      Most California regulation is straight transfer from the old people to the elite – observe that regulations are seldom applied to Mexicans.

      But a fish rots from the head down. That the elite is incompetent and insists on sticking its fingers into everything means that there is less and less to transfer. If the elite knew its business, we would have flying cars even if we had to share half of them with underclass Mexicans.

  2. bgc says:

    While what you say is factually correct, I do not think it is the main problem.

    The people running things are plenty smart enough, in terms of intelligence etc.

    What they are not is honest, what they are is cowardly.

    *

    But the era in which many people actually really tried to improve real world functionality was in fact very limited, a couple of centuries. And it has gone, and there is no basis for restoring it.

    We now have a choice of ideologies, and functionality will – as in most of history – take second place to matters such as cohesion and motivation.

    *

    The power to do stuff is useless if you have not the will to do it.

    We could have children, but we don’t. We can win wars, but we don’t. We can stop piracy very very easily, but we don’t.

    We lack will; and we lack will because we are nihilist; we can be, and will be, replaced by *any* group who are not nihilistics (who have a strong ideology or religion) and who wants to replace us.

    It does not matter how relatively weak that group may be, because we have no will to stop them.

    *

    • jim says:

      You are right. The intelligence of a group is apt to be less than the intelligence of the individuals that compose it. In an environment where no one is responsible for anything, there is no motivation to attempt the difficult task of getting the group to be as smart as the individuals that compose it, and I am going to issue a subsequent post on that topic.

      However, individual examples, such as Nobel Prize winning economist Krugman, suggest that the ruling elite is tending to the dim side.

    • Bill says:

      I don’t see the lack of will. Kosovo has been cleansed of Christians because that’s what the transnational elites wanted. Quadaffy has been deposed because that’s what the transnational elites wanted. The EU exists because that’s what the tranzis want. It is illegal, some places de jure and some places merely de facto, to utter hate facts.

      The West’s elite wants to kill the West. There is no aimless drift. There is directed vandalism. If you say to an American leftist that the Mexodus will effectively destroy America as a Western country, he will smile (only after he finishes scolding you for daring to call the US “America,” of course).

  3. jim says:

    If you say to an American leftist that the Mexodus will effectively destroy America as a Western country, he will smile

    The motives that make sense of the ruler’s policies are not secret.

  4. Tschafer says:

    Overt treason such as immigration policy aside, the whole business concerning the Shuttle is just jaw-dropping. I mean, I always knew that our “managers” were arrogant, stupid, and purblind, but the depths we have plumbed startle even a cynic like myself. Sometimes, I simply stand in awe…

  5. PRCalDude says:

    Having worked for the government, I can tell you that most of the people there are more lazy than stupid. If their jobs depended on them being competent, they’d care more about technical competence. But it’s impossible to fire a government employee for any reason, even gross misconduct. They simply get transferred or “put on overhead.” Mulcoy sounds like the typical government engineer. When I quit, one of the managers told me he’d fire 70% of the people who worked for him if he could.

    Now that we’re 5 years on from the housing meltdown, how closer are we to admitting or realizing that we blew trillions in the name of (more) equal lending and fairness? I’d estimate that less than 1 in 100 white people would admit it, and we’re mostly the ones paying for the clean up. We have the children of these very same people out protesting nebulous forces arrayed against them rather than the invaders from the southern border and the fools like Bush, Mozilo and Killinger who demanded that they be given more money. In fact, it was probably these kids out protesting who were working in Countrywide’s boiler rooms last decade.

    • jim says:

      Feynman’s theory being that they were good at being deliberately stupid. Not wanting to believe that the shuttle was going to explode, they became as stupid as necessary to not understand how and why it was going to explode.

      • Tschafer says:

        That’s very accurate. How many times have we seen people do this. Hell, it’s the organizing principle of the modern world.

      • Bill says:

        One thing I wanted to know at the time of the challenger investigation and which I would still like to know is: how many times were managers wrongly warned of crashing shuttles.

        • jim says:

          From Feynman’s book, as best I recall it, never. There was pressure to play down risks, so risks were played down, and when presented, expressed in euphemistic language.

          The report on the O ring problem was startling in its bluntness, and it was not very blunt, for example “deflagrate”, rather than “explode”.

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