The Politiconomist

Where Politics and Economics Hang Out

Why Influenza and Ebola aren’t Totally Comparable

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But Still, Don’t Freak out about Ebola

Risk assessment is hard. Like really hard. People aren’t good at understanding that a thousand times more likely and ten thousand times more likely are a lot of times more likely apart. These are just ideas human psychology seems to be ill-equipped to handle. More, novel and tail-risk threats are frequently overestimated. The flu kills—very roughly—about 30,000 people and, being pessimistic, let’s guess 10 people on American soil* will die from Ebola by the time this epidemic is over.

Does it make sense to be 3,000 times more worried about the flu?

The obvious answer to most people who consider the problem would seem to be yes. (I’ve conducted a totally unscientific survey of comments I can see on my Facebook feed, so take that how you want.) But I urge you to be skeptical of argumentation that assumes people are irrational, provides statistical margins, and asks you to conclude you should be more afraid of something else. Ebola and Influenza are a different kind of threat, and that’s worth talking about.

One reason to give more weight to Ebola than the simple ratio of deaths is that Ebola is a novel threat. Duncan’s case, and more specifically the nurses he infected, offer a glimpse into what exactly makes new threats dangerous. We know how to keep our Doctors and Nurses safe from the flu and more importantly their patients; it’s basically standard practice for those folks to get vaccines. But the debacle with exposed skin is exactly why we should give more weight to novel threats. It was a basic, preventable mistake. I bet those nurses knew how to make sure Duncan didn’t get the flu from them. I bet it was drilled into them.

And I bet some of the decisions they made were implicitly informed by that training.

We have a well-funded, practiced apparatus for keeping the flu at bay. We have an untested framework for preventing ebola’s spread. Public scrutiny isn’t such a bad thing.

Of course, one must have the conversation on a reasonable level for this to work.

Of course, one must have the conversation on a reasonable level for this to work. What’s interesting is that the comparison is pretty good here. Threat to a foreign power that could cause us some collateral damage and we have a vested interest and power in intervening in.

Bad public scrutiny, unfortunately, has characterized this discussion. We’re owed answers to how typical the Dallas case would have been if the errors weren’t corrected. We’re right to ask if the new protocols will work. We should keep our ears to the ground about changes in the situation, both here and in West Africa. (And this is without getting into the discussion about how ebola is much worse for healthy adults than the flu.)

The tension here is between importance and urgency. The flu is important; we know it’s a consistent public health menace. Ebola is urgent; it carries some risk and requires a response now, but isn’t the same kind of threat. If we talk about it that way, rather as an existential threat while paying the West African outbreak the deference it deserves, we’d all talk about these things better.

So, while keeping in mind that the new risks from ebola deserve extra attention, it’s the flu that deserves more of our domestic resources and attention.

*That a few isolated cases in various large cities and some secondary infections, primarily medical workers. This is the threat the US is facing down at present.

Written by R. A. Stark

October 23, 2014 at 9:54 PM

Posted in Uncategorized

Krugman: How to Get It Wrong, Indeed

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I’m several weeks behind on commenting on this, but I still want to comment on Krugman’s piece “How to Get It Wrong“. It reads like self-parody and yet…I doubt he realizes it. It’s well documented that I think Krugman routinely takes plausible positions and then misrepresents the consensus opinion among economists.

As an appetizer, let’s take this:

In what sense did economics go astray? Hardly anyone predicted the 2008 crisis, but that in itself is arguably excusable in a complicated world. More damning was the widespread conviction among economists that such a crisis couldn’t happen. Underlying this complacency was the dominance of an idealized vision of capitalism, in which individuals are always rational and markets always function perfectly.

I’d quibble: It was the mathematical assumption that, in plain English, recessions were caused by extrinsic factors. The models assumed only shocks like droughts, floods, and other disruptions would cause changes to the course of the economy. To be fair, the core framework assumed rational agents and clearing markets, but pinning the problem on this misses the core insight from the great recession: Profitable (and therefore rational) investment can create unforeseen fragilities. This is unpalatable because it implies that market feedback is not very good. But I’m surprised Krugman, a champion of regulating the banks, doesn’t want to go down that road and would rather call responding to these incentives “irrational”.

Whatever. I wouldn’t write a post about that. It’s this stunning display of what-the-fuckery I can’t abide by:

Still, many applied economists retained a more realistic vision of the world, and textbook macroeconomics, while it didn’t predict the crisis, did a pretty good job of predicting how things would play out in the aftermath. Low interest rates in the face of big budget deficits, low inflation in the face of a rapidly growing money supply, and sharp economic contraction in countries imposing fiscal austerity came as surprises to the talking heads on TV, but they were just what the basic models predicted under the conditions that prevailed postcrisis.

Excuse me?

This blog is hardly hostile to the idea that textbook macro deserves a place in the world. I use it here all the time. I use it in my head when commenting on other persons’ posts on Facebook and elsewhere. I will even cop to every now and again literally dreaming about it because, guys, I’m kind of lame. But as a vision of reality? Slow down.

The problem is that the big, reliable insight is only so strong. Namely, that Consumption and GDP are locked in a very tight dance. With over 99% explanatory power, Consumption changes are about two-thirds of GDP changes quarter-by-quarter. Basic arithmetic (see Mathematical Addendum I) will yield a multiplier of 3 on non-Consumption spending.

Textbook macro usually simplifies matters and assumes that the only non-consumption spending that changes during a recession is government spending. As a classroom matter, this is useful, though it should be explored better. As something Krugman is advocating, it leads to confusion. The relationship between Investment, Government spending, and Net Exports—even under liquidity trap conditions—is much more complicated than meets the eye.

Krugman should be aware that the studies he likes often contradict the simple, classroom relationship. Europe has an apparent multiplier of about 5. (It’s one of many ways the US is not Europe.) And yet, he vaunted a study that found the fiscal multiplier to be a paltry 1.5. This is well within the assumptions of textbook macro, which as noted simplifies things. And in the linked piece about Krugman above I cite evidence that the American fiscal multiplier is likely lower—we’ll call it 1 for this piece. That textbook macro is off by about 300% is hardly “a realistic view of the world”.

What makes this especially appalling is that following this contradiction within the framework of textbook economics calls into question at least one of two other theories Krugman has. Firstly, that investment is unaffected by liquidity traps. Secondly, that debts don’t matter. As a matter of opinion, I believe it is the latter.

If we assume that something must be sucking up the excess multiplier, then we quickly arrive at Net Exports. (See Mathematical Addendum II.) The dance between net exports, debt, and government spending is not a simple one to summarize. However, public debt both squeezes domestic debt abroad and goes abroad itself. The currency exchange that facilitates that means we end up with foreign currency and import foreign goods. Every penny we got from that debt is cancelled by the production we send overseas! Since the pressure to send debt abroad is higher the more debt there is domestically, high debt levels mean government debt hinders government spending!

Of course, as noted, Krugman simply asserts that the high end of the consensus range for the fiscal multiplier is “conservative” and is done with the whole thing. In that context, it makes this paragraph a truly stunning monument to his lack of self-awareness:

You might say that this is just human nature, and it’s true that while the most shocking intellectual malfeasance has come from conservative economists, some economists on the left have also seemed more interested in defending their turf and sniping at professional rivals than in getting it right. Still, this bad behavior has come as a shock, especially to those who thought we were having a real conversation.

I see.

Certainly, macro gadgets like the LM-IS model are a good check on bad intuition; they give a solid qualitative framework for using the consensus research of the last century quickly and easily. That’s why I often reference them when writing blog posts. But they don’t perform well on quantitative tests, in no small part because they are hard concepts to measure.

Paul Krugman can’t have it every which way. He can’t believe that textbook macro has performed well and then rely on more traditional analysis for his fiscal multipliers and evidence. At that, he can’t be the bearer of consensus and cherry-pick numbers from the high end of the distribution. He can’t put forward a fiscal multiplier that, by textbook macroeconomics, implies debt matters and then say that concerns about debt are unfounded.

He simply cannot be both the voice of reason and put forward that discredited quantitative models hold predictive power.

Mathematical Addendum I

By definition, change in GDP (Y) is the sum of the changes in Consumption (C), Investment (I), Government Spending (G), and Net Exports (NX).

\Delta Y=\Delta C +\Delta I+ \Delta G + \Delta NX.

As noted above, the empirical relationship between GDP and Consumption is very reliably this:

\Delta C=\frac{2}{3} \Delta Y.

By substitution, our GDP identity becomes:

\Delta Y=\frac{2}{3} \Delta Y +\Delta I+ \Delta G + \Delta NX.

Solving for the change in GDP shows us the multiplier:

\Delta Y=3 (\Delta I+ \Delta G + \Delta NX).

Mathematical Addendum II

Using the US example and assuming Investment growth is held constant by the liquidity trap:

\Delta Y=3 (\Delta G + \Delta NX)

and taking, say, 1 as the fiscal multiplier:

\Delta Y=1 \Delta G

you can deduce the relationship between government spending and net exports:

\Delta G=-\frac{3}{2} \Delta NX.

In other words, for every dollar spent by the Federal Government, we expect a significant fraction to go abroad. Interestingly enough…that is the case.

Written by R. A. Stark

October 5, 2014 at 3:59 PM

Posted in Uncategorized

The Tradeoff between Equality and Growth is Probably Real

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While I’m decidedly liberal, my commitment to data, evidence, and science means that I often break with the liberal camp. I’m famously against dramatic increases in the minimum wage, hard-nosed about large fiscal multipliers, and not in line with the party-line about income equality and growth. It’s on that last break I want to say a few words.

The popular argument, near as I can tell, is a quick deduction from the relationship between GDP and Consumption. The relationship between GDP and Consumption is very tight: a dollar increase in consumption translates to a 75 cent increase in GDP. I agree that far—it’s easily verifiable. This is poetically extrapolated to us having a “consumption based economy”. I quibble with this, but as long as we’re careful with the original idea, this is fine. Next, the lower classes consume a greater proportion of their income on average. Sure. Finally, given all that, increasing consumption among the lower or middle classes should increase GDP.

That doesn’t quite follow.

Imagine Adam makes 10,000 dollars, and Eve makes 100,000 dollars. If Adam spends all of his income (which is likely), in order for Eve to have less of an impact on the consumption market, she must live on an even more meager budget than Adam—which she almost certainly would not do. Of course, the ratio of Adams to Eves matters here too, and the actual distribution is more complicated. So the point isn’t that the argument is obviously wrong, but that it requires care. Let’s give it some.

Income distributions famously cleave to the log-normal distributions. What this essentially means is that most people make less than the average income; there are a lot fewer rich people than poor folks. Further, this distribution can be summarized by two parameters. One of them, mu, relates (indirectly) to the median income. The other, sigma, is a measure of income inequality. When mu increases, everyone* gets a raise. When sigma increases, everyone below the median income sees a dock in pay while everyone above sees an increase. (Data adapted from here.)

Ideally, we’d dramatically increase mu while decreasing sigma—we’d like to increase pay for almost all while leaving fewer people at the bottom. Liberals often assert that this isn’t only possible, but necessary. Likewise, conservatives take the position that there is a tradeoff between growth and equality. (And then go onto favor growth, which is a matter of value this article won’t address.) How does this stack up empirically?

The title is a bit misleading as mu is technically the parameter of the median income.  (Calculating e^mu will give you the actual median income.)  Further, while sigma is a measure of income inequality, it is not a way income inequality is usually reported because it doesn't have a particularly concrete interpretation.  Still, this proves a tradeoff exists.

The title is a bit misleading as mu is technically the parameter of the median income. (Calculating e^mu will give you the actual median income.) Further, while sigma is a measure of income inequality, it is not a way income inequality is usually reported because it doesn’t have a particularly concrete interpretation. Still, this proves a tradeoff exists.

The following equation explains almost exactly 80% of the relationship between mu and sigma:

\sigma=-2.4+.30 \mu.

Inequality is positively correlated with the median income. And while extrapolating causation always has the caveat that this could be coincidence, I suspect not in this case. Investment—primarily the game of the rich—begets production and consumption.

It’s also worth noting the tradeoff has been in nearly everyone’s favor. Excepting the very bottom fifth of a percent the increases to the distribution as a whole have outweighed the losses from increasing inequality. Now, this is not to say that the bottom of the distribution has seen enviable increases, and that’s worth talking about. After all, asking if the bottom fifth is making more than they made in the aftermath of WWII is hardly a high bar! But, if there is causation underlying the trend, fixing income inequality might do more harm than good for exactly the people it’s intended to help.

The question—and this is open—is if this trend is a feature of economic systems or peculiar to our approach. That is, could we have growth and equality if we pursued significantly different policies? I don’t know.

I want to head off a potential reductive criticism and the flip-side extrapolation. Yes, this is saying that trickle down policies have happened. This is not saying anyone’s pet examples of trickle down are proven. In fact, on balance, policies branded as “trickle down” have generally failed the mathematical tests put to them. It’s also important to note that it truly has been a trickle. The top has benefitted enormously while the bottom has seen measurable, but meager gains. This hardly says a trickle down structure is the best we could do. Merely that empirically that’s what we have to show for decades of varied policy.

So, I’m hardly saying Reagan had the right idea. What I am saying is that by the numbers, there has been a strong tendency for growth to come coupled with rising inequality. The strength of the correlation is suggestive of something causative. Those who champion closing the gap should take heed: it may cost all but the extraordinarily poor more than the gains from closing the gap.

*This is a bit of a fudge. The 40th percentile earner, for example, will get a raise. But if last year they were the 90th percentile earner, they individually will see marked decrease in pay. But, the new 90th percentile earner will be making more than they did. So “everyone” may not literally be better off, but every point in the distribution will.

Written by R. A. Stark

October 3, 2014 at 1:28 PM

Posted in Uncategorized

“The Legal Subjection of Men”

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The more things change, the more they stay the same.

With my new position as an Assistant Debate Coach, I find myself revisiting philosophers I read a decade ago so I know where to direct my students. (I had a moment of “I don’t think Locke wrote that” the other day. First of all, he didn’t. Second of all, I didn’t really remember what Locke wrote myself!) And today I revisited J.S. Mill because I suspect Utilitarianism is going to be big this topic.

As a matter of course, I start with Wikipedia because the overview helps me situate myself before reading the original. Centuries old texts are challenging enough without having some idea what I’m diving into. And in the course of things, I discovered that Mill was an early feminist. His piece “The Subjection of Women” is fairly basic and needlessly wordy to present-day readers, but I was still struck by how many of those basic points are unsettled a century and a half later.

But what I’m here to share with you today is “The Legal Subjection of Men“. It came nearly 40 years later in 1908 and argues that women were the privileged sex. Apart from the anachronistic language, it could be a modern MRA treatise. Right down to the hyperbolic tone*:

There have been few agitations in history which have been characterised by such hard lying and shameless perversion of fact as the so-called “Woman’s Movement.” Unfortunately, continually-reiterated assertions in direct contravention with the real state of the case have only too well succeeded. The public mind has been bull-dozed into assuming the reverse of what actually obtains to represent the truth, and has sympathised and given effect to its sympathies on the basis of these false representations. I need scarcely say that the advocates of “Woman’s Rights” and female suffrage, whose whole credit is based upon the tissue of falsehood it is the mission of this little work to expose, have done their best to boycott and ignore the exposure. All honour then to the Twentieth Century Press for originally publishing, and to the New Age Press for having the courage to risk offending certain sections of “advanced” opinion by reprinting, the following unvarnished statement of Law and fact.

They express horror at the bias that courts have against men:

Bias OF Tribunals.

The settled bias of the tribunals in favour of the woman complainant, actuating magistrates, judge and jury, operates in two ways. In the first place a woman has only to complain against a man, and the tribunal is already convinced of the justice of her claim. The tribunal is only impartial if the complaint is by one woman against another. In the next place, no adequate repression of crime or other injury by a woman against a man is even attempted.

They’re bummed that the courts don’t think marriage is about treating your wife like a child:

As against her husband, the law confers on a woman who has married him the unilateral privilege of maintenance. The earlier law made this privilege dependent on her obedience, cohabitation with her husband, and her observance of outwardly decent behaviour. The present law has set her free from all these restraints.

The injustice of a husband not being able to seize gifts to his wife:

But the bulk of women’s property, in 99 out of every 100 cases, is not earned by them at all. It arises from gift or inheritance from parents, relatives, or even the despised husband. Whenever there is any earning in the matter it is notoriously earning by some mere man or other. Nevertheless, under the operation of the law, property is steadily being concentrated into women’s hands. “Once Stridhan always Stridhan.”

It’s worth remembering that it used to be men who got custody as a matter of course:

“It has always in England been laid down as a fundamental law based on public policy, that the custody of children and their education is a duty incumbent on the father. It is said to be so fundamental that he is not permitted to waive his exercise of the right by prenuptial contract. This rule of the Common Law of England is of course in harmony with the policy of all Europe and Christendom, as well as with the historic conditions of the European social organisation, if not with the primal instincts of the race. Nevertheless, fundamental and necessary as the rule may be, the pro-feminist magistrates and judges of England are bent apparently on ignoring it with a light heart.

You’ll be happy (read: alarmed) to learn that the complaint that women can beat men but men can’t beat woman is an old saw (emphasis mine):

If a man under any provocation, no matter how galling—insolence or violence–strikes a woman, he is sent to hard labour, divorced, and his property confiscated, or his earnings h3rpothecated [unclear]—and all this through the prompt instrumentality of the police-court. A woman may assault, stab, set fire to her husband, and he has no remedy, except to summon her to the police-court, where, if she be fined, he is compelled to any the fine, and as likely as not is laughed at. If her crime be revoltingly atrocious, she is perhaps sent to prison—for one-twentieth part of the time awarded to a male offender for a like offence. On her being released, her husband, unless he be a rich man, is bound to take her back, and, rich or poor, support her. The prompt and inexpensive police-court divorce is not for him.

Confusing benevolent sexism for discrimination against men:

Catherine Chilton (Durham Assizes, Nov. 24th, 1894) threw a lighted lamp at her husband. Sentenced to twelve months’ hard labour for manslaughter. The judge described it as a wanton and wicked act, and said it was a mercy for the prisoner that the jury reduced the original charge to one of manslaughter.

Demonstrating male-histrionics while claiming women are unduly influenced by the press and, couldn’t make this up, breast-worship:

Many women who, of their own accord, being still under the influence of the earlier policy of Christendom, would not think of exercising the force of public opinion, or the privileges of a one-sided law against their husbands or other men, are influenced to do so in various ways. The incessant clamour of a hysterical press leads them to suppose that in any quarrel with a man, the man must be wrong, the woman never can be wrong. The shrieks of the “new woman” propaganda suggest to women that in making most infamous use of her weapons she is upholding the cause of her “sisters.” Furthermore the new mammon-worship which has infected all modern English life has produced among the average middle class woman an unspoken theory — ^that the sole duty of man is to make money for his wife.

To be fair, I don’t have a hard time believing that the uneven advancement of a woman’s standing before the law created absurdities. After all women were “protected” from a number of legal consequences by virtue of having very little beneficial legal standing. As the legal standing improved, some of those old laws likely had not caught up. Some of the examples in this pamphlet are likely examples of those inequities manifesting. But, of course, going back to even Wollstonecraft:

I do not wish them [women] to have power over men; but over themselves.

And I have a hard time believing these injustices were as widespread as put forward—or in every case cited. A less polemic examination of cases like this reveal that the press was often drumming up sympathy with sexist rhetoric. Saying women are helpless and deserve the soft touch from the law wasn’t feminism in 1908, and it certainly isn’t now.

That it is taking centuries to register with the same people who remind us that men are the “rational sex” would be laughable if not so sad.

*The linked pamphlet was scanned by computer and left unedited. As such, it contains many errors. I have tried to correct them, but I suspect I’ve introduced errors of my own. PDF scans of the original do exist for readers who have more than a passing interest.

Written by R. A. Stark

September 30, 2014 at 11:31 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

The Science of the Pay-Gap

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or: Asking the Right Questions about Wage Policy

Spend enough time arguing about feminism online, and you’ll hit the pay-gap discussion. And by discussion, I mean it usually devolves into someone—almost always a man—smugly informing the thread that science shows it’s women’s choices that cause the pay-gap. It’s really just a myth.

I first take umbrage with the implication that an easily verified statistic is a myth. But, deeper than that, the studies which control for women’s choices don’t even refute that men and women receive different pay. Finally, it is at best intellectually hasty to take those choices as totally isolated from existing workplace conditions.

No, Virginia, There Really is a Pay-Gap

The simple question Do men make more than women? has an easily verified answer. That would be YES!



While people using the 77 cents on the dollar figure are out of date—BLS released this update in 2012—they are not wrong that the gap persists. 82 cents on the dollar is hardly a victory, even if it is a step in the right direction. This is simple question about whether or not the wage gap exists is answered by a simple tabulation of wages between men and women. Statistically speaking, men make more than women. End of story.

But, if you go onto assert a reason, you get into trickier waters.

A Stylized Wage Gap

Many studies have taken great to pains to find out if women are getting paid less because they are getting discriminated in the workplace or if because they make choices that put them in lower paying workplaces. (In the last section, I’ll critique this dichotomy, but for now, we’ll take it at face value.)

Let’s imagine a simple world where the main determiner of your pay is your career. The alternative-universe BLS has created an index of pay based on what job you do, and there is a strong correlation between that index and individual pay. Blue is for women and red is for men. (Because this is an AU and I can change up the script, thank you.)

The real world is not this simple, not this divided, nor does it have this distribution.

The real world is not this simple, not this divided, nor does it have this distribution.

Even without running complicated statistics, you can see two things. First, as a rule, women choose jobs that pay more. Second, the wage gap exists, but is entirely explainable by career. That is to say, men are getting equal pay for equal work—they’re just not doing equal work. The wage gap isn’t a “myth” that can be “debunked”, but the reasons are more subtle than intra-workplace pay discrimination.

The More Complicated Real World

There are many studies tackling this problem. As a rule, they find a small to non-existent amount of direct work-place discrimination. For example, this study found about 8 cents unexplained on a 20 cent difference. (Occupation and industry for a bit more, with experience taking the other large bite.) In other words, women are making 92 cents on the dollar controlling for their choices.

This study finds that women tend to go into professions that pay less. Or, as the study points out, perhaps professions that women go into get payed less. It is hard to break down cause and effect with regression.

Indeed, a study by Francine Blau, Gender Differences in Pay, found that widening wage inequality coupled with gendered difference in professions were exacerbating the wage gap. Basically, women are going into careers where widening inequality hurts them, while men are picking careers where widening inequality helps them. (Sorry, I had to download the study so I can’t hyperlink!)

While studies exist that show no adjusted pay-gap, I encourage the reader to be skeptical of their utility. Findings should be robust; the fact that some datasets under certain controls can get statistically no pay-gap isn’t strong enough to prove that the others are wrong. The literature suggests that a few cents of discrimination based pay difference exists, maybe 5 cents on the dollar. Now, when I say “only”, remember, for the average income of 50K a year, 5 cents is $2,500 dollars difference in pay. That may be statistical chunk change, but it is not insignificant in a woman’s life.

Answering the Right Questions

What these studies imply is that the returns to enforcement on pursuing workplace discrimination may be low. Even effective, low cost methods that do not have a high rate of false conviction would close the pay gap to probably no more than 86 cents on the dollar. More, it will be difficult to engineer laws that will do that at this juncture. (I’m not opposed if someone has specific proposals that seem to avoid these risks!)

But, for the web’s hordes trumpeting these statistics as proof it is women’s fault, that’s premature.

As an anecdote, my job search lead me to a position that I was well-qualified for, wanted to take, and paid alright. I was excitedly outlining my cover-letter when I realized that the fine print said I’d be working for the Catholic Church. As a gay man, I abandoned the application faster than you can say, “Ecclesiastic homophobia.” Pedantically, I wasn’t discriminated against in any actionable way—even if the Catholic Church wasn’t protected against that sort of thing. I just didn’t want to deal with it.

The problem is that even small or intangible (not pay-based) acts of discrimination can make it worth it for women to go into different careers. STEM fields are notorious for their sexism and women, who are presumably not stupid, choose professions where they don’t have to bear those “invisible” costs. I for one would rather teach than be harassed all day! Likewise, getting paid at statistically small but measurably lower rates makes it all the less appealing. Do you think the smug people over-confidently citing these studies would put up with a low-grade—or even high-grade in too many cases—barrage of harassment for less pay?

Yeah. Didn’t think so.

Ultimately, the body of evidence is such that directly addressing the pay-gap is likely to be inefficient. I remain open to suggestions for closing it by law, but it seems much of what remains is women avoiding the threat of harassment, albeit a credible one.

The bottom line is that the pay-gap can’t be “debunked”.

Written by R. A. Stark

September 14, 2014 at 12:20 PM

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with

Quick PSA: You are (probably) not OCD*

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It is not okay to say you’re, like, sooooo OCD because you like your sheets to be even.  Unless you spend literally hours making and remaking your bed until it’s “right,” and leaving it “wrong” would cause you overwhelming distress, you do not have OCD.  OCD is, at best, an irksome daily struggle.  At worst, it’s a debilitating condition that seeps into every facet of life.  It also manifests in thousands of different ways – preferring a clean environment over a messy one is not a sign or symptom of OCD.

You are also probably not depressed.  I’m so sorry that your sports team lost, but you are probably not suffering from anhedonia, and you probably do not feel hopeless and despondent about your personal future.  You may have found Schindler’s List depressing, but it made you sad, not depressed.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Depression are very real issues for the people who deal with them day-to-day.  Flippantly referring to these illnesses in an attempt to make your speech more edgy or colorful is pretty disrespectful.  It also makes it harder to take legitimate problems seriously.

“But wait a minute,” some of you probably are not thinking. “I don’t actually mean to diminish the pain felt by actual Depression and OCD sufferers, lighten up! I just use ‘OCD’ and ‘depressed’ to make my everyday speech more interesting, so I’m not stuck with the same few words over and over again!”  I’m so glad that you brought that up, even though it was me and probably not you.  Here’s a handy list of alternate terms you can use that aren’t making light of other people’s psychological conditions:

Instead of OCD, say you’re…

  • Tidy
  • Meticulous
  • Particular
  • Persnickety
  • Fastidious
  • Thorough
  • Discerning
  • Skilled in making the world aesthetically excellent

Instead of depressed, say you’re…

  • Blue
  • Down
  • Glum
  • Melancholy
  • Gloomy
  • Upset
  • Downcast
  • Disappointed
  • Downhearted
  • Heartbroken

See?  All the color, none of the ableism.


* If you think you may suffer from either OCD or Depression, please seek help from a qualified clinician.

Written by Kelly

September 9, 2014 at 11:00 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

Just Say No to Balanced News

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CW: General discussion of MRAs, but especially domestic violence, incest, and child prostitution.

I was reminded again that I don’t actually believe journalists should prioritize “balance” in their reporting at the expense of accuracy. In particular, NPR’s piece, “For Men’s Rights Groups, Feminism Has Come At The Expense Of Men” reminded me of exactly what is wrong with the mantra, “There’s two sides to every story!”

It’s not even that I detected factual accuracies in the piece. But if you knew nothing more about A Voice for Men, you’d not get the idea just how heinous their positions are:

Even Warren Farrell concedes that the movement includes some angry people, but he insists they’re a small minority. He says there was plenty of outrageous and even violent rhetoric during the early years of the women’s movement, too.

I’ll be back for Farrell, but let’s start with Paul Elam. This is what NPR had to say about him:

“Once we can establish that, by the way, men are human beings — so are boys — it is OK for us to stand and talk about their issues,” says Paul Elam, who founded the website A Voice for Men in 2009. “[We can] seek solutions even if, God forbid, they’re not solutions that are prescribed through the feminist lens.”

Elam, who organized the Michigan event, says his site draws 20,000 to 30,000 visits a day. But critics say the site, and others devoted to men’s rights, generate more heat than light.

Ah, yes. Paul Elam. Who said this. Satirically, he assures us:

That’s it. In the name of equality and fairness, I am proclaiming October to be Bash a Violent Bitch Month.

I’d like to make it the objective for the remainder of this month, and all the Octobers that follow, for men who are being attacked and physically abused by women – to beat the living shit out of them. I don’t mean subdue them, or deliver an open handed pop on the face to get them to settle down. I mean literally to grab them by the hair and smack their face against the wall till the smugness of beating on someone because you know they won’t fight back drains from their nose with a few million red corpuscles.

And then make them clean up the mess.

In case the satire tags weren’t sufficient, commenters helpfully explained why I still didn’t get it was a “joke”:

Important characteristics of psychopaths and malignant narcissists (feminists) is a lack of analytical skills and logic, the inability to synthesize ideas or “connect the dots”. These characteristics result in an inability to understand abstract ideas (theoretical mathematics or physics for instance) or interpret literary mechanisms like metaphor or simile. They also do not understand things like satire, sarcasm or parody. They can only interpret the world around them at immediate and direct face-value. Psychopaths and malignant narcissists (feminists) are very short-sighted and narrow-minded and are unable to relate two independent ideas. That’s why they flock to professions in which they can wield absolute power and control without having to think about anything or demonstrate reason or analysis. Teaching in public schools, social work, law enforcement, the judiciary, etc… Professions in which they can appeal to an irrational majority or to laws or rules or policies no matter how little sense they make and how destructive they are. This is how I discovered my father is a psychopath and malignant narcissist (feminist). I realized he could not understand satire or metaphor in literature. He cannot connect the dots and synthesize two seemingly unrelated ideas into a new and more accurate representation of reality.

Yes, ladies, the reason you don’t think this is satire isn’t because it’s a thinly veiled threat. It’s because you’re too emotional to do math. Look, if you have to explain that it’s a joke, it isn’t a very good joke. Indeed, if you think you can handle the vileness, feel free to scroll through the comments yourself, but it’s ugly.

David Futrelle, quoted in the NPR piece, meticulously documents this kind of call and response day-in-and-day-out. Elam has a long history of first saying or supporting bombastic, violent things and then later claiming—after his followers agree—that it was all in jest. It’s basic dog-whistling.

He also has a history of saying non-satirical violent things. He’d punch a woman half his size if she hit him—but only enough to knock her out or subdue him. (That piece also links to documentation about how this kind of violent, getting to hit a “bitch” back fantasy is de rigor on AVfM.) He also wrote a short story about breaking his partner’s nose for leaving him, but that blurs the line between “author insert fantasy” and “satire”. (Also, it’s cool; she deserved more but he only broke her nose.) All around, Paul Elam is heinous.

Warren Farrell is less reprehensible mainly by virtue of talking less. I cringed when NPR called him the “intellectual grandfather” of the movement, not because of the use of “intellectual, but because Farrell has refused to retract his statements about “healthy incest“. The reader would be forgiven if they took a few minutes to take a scalding hot shower, but hold off: Farrell is not the only MRA leader to think child molestation is Men’s Issue.

Tom Martin, not quoted by NPR, is a British MRA leader who…believes that child prostitutes prey on pedophiles. Because pedophiles can’t help themselves but child prostitutes (who are often either outright coerced or in a desperate, coercive position) had free choice. It’s now (more or less) safe to take a scalding shower.

I’ve heavily linked to We Hunted the Mammoth because, frankly, David Futrelle is a better journalist than I’ll ever be. He links, quotes, and cites meticulously. Clicking through his citations—and an unguided visit to AVfM, the Red Pill subreddit, or the MRA subreddit—will reveal he’s hardly cherry-picking. In short, David Futrelle is something of an expert on the matter.

Which brings us back to the NPR piece. I am sympathetic to the intuition that large, general-consumption, and especially state-funded news outlets should err on the side of “Controversy defaults to equivalence”. After all, a good deal of things are hard to definitively solve to even expert satisfaction, let alone the general public’s. The effects of the minimum wage, the ethical standing of a fetus, and the headwinds theory of growth are all ideas that I’m very partisan about, but willing to admit that the controversy is very real.

But it is more important that journalists weigh the evidence in proportion with the weight of the evidence. Elam and Farrell have a history of saying heinous, misogynistic things—and Farrell has troubling ideas about incest on the record. Their followers have followed suit. Claims by AVfM’s leadership that they are seeking human rights are belayed, about as objectively as these things come, by what they say on a regular basis. To treat their hollow denial of their terrible behavior as on the same ground as the well-evidenced claims that they have behaved badly is first and foremost an active editorial decision. Balance is an activist editorial lens when the evidence does not warrant balance.

NPR should not present this as a point-counterpoint when the counterpoint is, “That’s demonstrably untrue.” At best, AVfM’s leadership is guilty of inconsistency, which warrants light editorialization from NPR. They can even put this in terms of what MRA detractors say. ‘David Futrelle, however, has documented a number of cases where A Voice for Men’s leadership has said violent and misogynistic things. Examples include….’

Because things aren’t always balanced. Paul Elam asserts. David Futrelle documents and demonstrates.

Properly weighted news would note that.

Written by R. A. Stark

September 3, 2014 at 2:27 PM


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