Ari Armstrong's Web Log (Main) | Archives | Terms of Use

Self in Society Roundup 33

Blue Sky, Trump, Tokyo, optimism, homosexuality, market concentration, teen suicides, fertilizer shortages, and K–8 math.

Copyright © 2024 by Ari Armstrong
October 20, 2023; ported here on January 12, 2024

Blue Sky: After reading Twitter posts by Elon Musk promoting Dinesh D'Souza and Tucker Carlson (hardly the worst of it), I posted and pinned the following note: "The owner of this platform is actively using it to promote liars and racists. I cannot, in good conscience, promote it any longer. I will lurk, but I will not post or retweet again, until and unless this site changes ownership. Please find me on other platforms." So far my favorite of the alternatives is Blue Sky (find me there!). You need an "invite code" to join; I now have two of these which I'm pleased to give away on a first-come basis. You can also find me on Threads.

Trump: I think Donald Trump has an excellent chance of winning the next presidential election—as horrifying as that prospect is. Check out the report on swing states from Bloomberg (via Axios). On the other hand, Sidney Powell has pleaded guilty to some election charges out of Georgia.

Tokyo and Yimby: Tyler Cowen persuasively argues that real-estate prices in Tokyo are low, not because of YIMBY building policies, but because various economic restrictions reduce productivity. He reminds us that "true YIMBY adds value, or can add value, but it very often raises rather than lowers rents." The point is that YIMBY construction policy lowers housing costs relative to what they would be absent those policies.

Techno-Optimist Manifesto: Marc Andreessen's essay has drawn a lot of attention. A few excerpts: "The myth of Prometheus—in various updated forms like Frankenstein, Oppenheimer, and Terminator—haunts our nightmares. We are told to denounce our birthright—our intelligence, our control over nature, our ability to build a better world. . . . Technology is the glory of human ambition and achievement, the spearhead of progress, and the realization of our potential. . . . We can advance to a far superior way of living, and of being. . . . We [techno-optimists] believe growth is progress—leading to vitality, expansion of life, increasing knowledge, higher well being. . . . We believe the market economy is a discovery machine, a form of intelligence—an exploratory, evolutionary, adaptive system." I agree with much of what he has to say. But he has his problems, as by including a literal, explicit fascist among his "saints." Liberty and fascism are diametrically opposed, and fascism is the path to death and oppression, not progress. Jason Kuznicki also has a critique: "[I]t's absurd to see Andreessen name checking neoreactionaries in his techno-optimist reading list: You think these are the friends of modernity?" See also Virginia Postrel on Prometheus.

Homosexuality: Study: "[S]ame-sex sexual behaviour [in mammals] . . . may play an adaptive role in maintaining social relationships and mitigating conflict." Via the New York Times.

Market Concentration: You'll never guess what drove market concentration in the health industry. Okay, I'll just tell you: ObamaCare. Of course, these kinds of government-caused market concentrations hold little interest for the antitrust bureaucrats, or else they worry only about the downstream businesses and not the government actions driving the dynamics.

Teen Suicides: Peter Gray supposes that suicides among U.S. males ages 15–19 increased dramatically from 1950 to 1990 because of a continual loss of control for those people. Then suicides for this group fell from 1990 to about 2008 because these teens loved and mastered video games. Then suicide went up again from around 2008 to 2019 because schools started "teaching to the test" and providing less recess and fewer fun classes. This all seems to me a bit too pat and in line with Gray's priors. Gray does review convincing evidence that students find drill-and-test schooling stressful and unpleasant, so this is probably part of the story. Jonathan Haidt agrees that a big part of the problem is "the transition from a play-based childhood involving a lot of risky unsupervised play," but he thinks the main problem is the transition "to a phone-based childhood which blocks normal human development by taking time away from sleep, play, and in-person socializing, as well as causing addiction and drowning kids in social comparisons they can't win."

Fertilizer Shortages: The pandemic followed by Russia's assault on Ukraine has driven up fertilizer prices, stressing many African growers, reports the New York Times.

Math: I continue to really like the K–8 math books by Singapore, Dimensions Math and Challenging Word Problems. I think many adults would struggle to answer some of the questions in the third-grade materials. Here are two examples from the end of the Word Problems book: 1) "The figure below shows a square formed by 4 identical rectangles [stacked on top of each other]. The perimeter of each rectangle is 50 cm. What is the length of the square?" 2) "During a marathon, 46 cups of water were consumed by 13 children. If each girl drank 3 cups of water and each boy drank 4 cups of water, how many boys and how many girls were there?" (You can substitute Team A and Team B if you like.) You can solve both of these problems through "guess and check"; of course, that wouldn't work well if the perimeter of a rectangle were, say, 146.4 cm. These sorts of problems provide good preparation for thinking about algebra.

Ari Armstrong's Web Log (Main) | Archives | Terms of Use