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  • Worthwhile Reading

    Posted by David Foster on January 27th, 2019 (All posts by )

    Why do journalists love twitter and hate blogging?

    The legacy of China’s Confucian bureaucracy.  Related:  my previous post on the costs of formalism and credentialism.

    Stroking egos does nothing for students — raising expectation does.

    Magic and Politics.

    Related to the above:  Witches: the new woke heroines.

    Legos, marketing, and gender.  “In 1981,” says a woman who as a child was pictured in a Legos ad back then, “LEGOs were ‘Universal Building Sets’ and that’s exactly what they were…for boys and girls. Toys are supposed to foster creativity. But nowadays, it seems that a lot more toys already have messages built into them before a child even opens the pink or blue package.”

    What will be the economic impact of China’s increasing emphasis on economic control and preferential treatment for state-run enterprises?

    What is the fastest the US economy can grow?

    Midnight at the Gemba. Kevin Meyer visits the night shift at the medical-device molding plant he was running.

     

    12 Responses to “Worthwhile Reading”

    1. Assistant Village Idiot Says:

      Legos – The advertising was indeed gender-neutral years ago. Except no, not really. They started with just blocks, but they researched who their customers were. We had our first foster child in 1976, who turned 8 while with us, so this is our era. Boys played with legos much more than girls did, even if they were in the same family and had the same playroom. Lego put up cute little girls with creations they had clearly not made themselves in order to expand their market, and suggest – in a manner we still see now – that if girls were just encouraged to play with these sort of toys, the world would change. Whoever the model was is not a fit judge for what the intent of the ads were. She was a child. Lego followed the market – that would be “boys,” and made more things they might like to play with. Perhaps they shouldn’t have followed the market. Perhaps they should have remained in their northern-European fantasy world and just made blocks for whoever would use them. But once they started following their customers’ preferences, they were eventually going to hit a point where it was largely boy stuff, and to reach girls, they tried to cook up some things they thought girls would like.

      I knew a few girls who very much liked original legos, just building stuff. Not many, but they aren’t imaginary. My granddaughters now play with the sets, and they absolutely require the little people figures, or the material is on no interst to them.

    2. Assistant Village Idiot Says:

      Witches. My sample is heavily biased toward psychiatric patients, but I have noted (everyone has noted, but most don’t dare say it) that there is an enormous overlap with Borderline Personality Disorder. Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, Depression, Anxiety disorder – I can’t think of any.

    3. Gavin Longmuir Says:

      Worthwhile reading indeed! Thanks, Mr. Foster.

      Re: “What will be the economic impact of China’s increasing emphasis on economic control …”

      Maybe we need to be more precise in what we mean by “economic impact”. There is the real economy and the financial economy. The financial economy generates all sorts of dramatic headlines about major companies gaining or losing billions — which turn out on closer inspection to mean only that a relatively small number of shares changed hands at a higher or lower price. The real economy produces actual goods and services, and seems a good deal more stable than the financial economy.

      Today, the West has the financial economy. Apple, for example, has its HQ in the US, and its stock trades on US markets. China (and other parts of Asia), on the other hand, have the real economy — the factories that actually make the iPhones and computers and smart watches which Apple sells. Think about it — without Chinese-made light bulbs, the war rooms in European and North American capitals would be dark.

      Yes, China has problems with rising debt levels, just like the West (i.e., the problems of the financial economy). But China also has the modern infrastructure and the factories (i.e. the benefits of the real economy). Going into what will likely be a troubling period in the world, China seems to have dealt itself a pretty good hand, as the overblown importance of the financial economy declines and we are all forced to recognize the fundamental importance of the real economy.

      Some of this ties into aspects of that interesting article on “Magic and Politics”.

    4. Brian Says:

      re: Legos, It seems to me that the push for “gender neutral” toys has been thrown aside in the last few years, and I can’t help think that the transgender lunacy is the reason. After all, you can’t first argue that boys and girls are the same and there is no difference in their preferences, abilities, etc., and at the same time argue that a child can be a boy or a girl regardless of genitals, BUT regardless of genitals “girls” like stereotypically girl stuff, and “boys” like stereotypically boy stuff.

    5. Brian Says:

      “There is the real economy and the financial economy…China seems to have dealt itself a pretty good hand”
      There is real economy and Communist economy. Every government number, ESPECIALLY economic numbers, from China, like all commie countries, is a fraud.

    6. David Foster Says:

      Gavin….I don’t think Apple’s entire US operations can be called only the Financial Economy. The software, the hardware design, and even the aesthetics of the packaging are crucial parts of the overall product.

      The failure on the part of so many Americans in leadership positions to understand the importance of manufacturing has done us a lot of harm, and Trump is part of the reaction and hopefully substantial restoration. But this doesn’t mean that *only* the manufacturing is part of the Real Economy.

    7. Gavin Longmuir Says:

      “But this doesn’t mean that *only* the manufacturing is part of the Real Economy.”

      Agreed! Start with the basics — we all die without food. Agriculture is the foundation of the Real Economy. But the farmer needs steel implements, which require human beings to mine ore — mining is part of the Real Economy. As is the building of farm-to-market roads — construction is part of the Real Economy. And of course certain services, such as design and insurance and transportation, are also part of the Real Economy.

      The underlying issue remains that the US, UK and some other places have focused on the zero-sum activity of financial games, while allowing the parts of the economy which deliver real goods & services to atrophy. That is the Road to Hell. In contrast, China has built capacity in services (e.g. creating the Ali Baba marketing system or the astonishingly capable WeChat software) along with the capacity to manufacture the hardware on which those systems run.

      When things get harder in the world (as they inevitably will, given the folly of the Political Class), we will be reminded that an orchard or a machine shop has real value, whereas a stock certificate or a gold bar does not.

    8. L. C. Rees Says:

      On credentialism, one caveat is that often the choice in most human societies is between social ranking gained solely through family ties and social ranking bases on some other metric…complexly intermixed with family ties.

      The genetic lottery is just that, a lottery: sometimes you get heads, sometimes you get tails. So systems arose, mostly it seems in the Axial Age, to place a check, or just a different spin, on it.

      One of these was the Chinese imperial examination system. In its earliest stirrings during the same Warring States period that also famously produced the Sun-tzu, its role was supplementary: the local king, prince, duke, or whatnot, generally produced by the genetic lottery (or its close cousin the coup d’etat by a close relative) was supreme. But this local despot would seek to attract mobile men of merit to his side, to lead him, guide him, walk beside him, and help him find the tao. Famous Chinese figures Sun-tzu, Kong-tzu (Confucius), Meng-tzu (Mencius), and the infamous Lord Shang all played in this bracket. But they were always subject to the whim of the hereditary lord, his unmeritorious favorites, or, the nemesis of all good Confucian scholar-officials, the treacherous eunuch.

      While Sun-tzu carved out an exception for the general in the field, one later turned into a classic apocryphal story e.g. here, this focus on serving a hereditary master, even if he was a major-league jerk, is why the go to form of Chinese protest literature is the passive-aggressive memorial or petition from an aggrieved merit-based bureaucrat to a “misled” master who got there because of the genetic lottery. There is a tradition of this in the West: blaming things on the king’s “evil counselors” and world-wearily musings “If only the little father knew” when more than half the time it really is the born to the purple prince who’s the problem.

      China’s administrative regime was superior to almost everything it faced for 1500 years: western Eurasia’s trade deficit with the Indian subcontinent and the Chinese littorals dates at least back to Augustus, if not Alexander or Darius. It was only bested by a historical one-off with few parallels beyond early modern conquistadors facing off against Copper Age Amerindians 1519-1550: an aggressive narcostate armed with steamships, improved muzzle loaded artillery, and well honed regular who could project their power from the novel direction of the Eastern Sea (AKA the Pacific). That this narcostate and some of its rebel discontents could then produce newer and newer weapons at a faster and faster pace had no precedents save one if William H McNeill is to be believed and that is in Song Dynasty-era China in the two centuries abutting 1100. That group of polities was divided into different despotisms but all of them had civil services that would run rings around their Indian or Islamic peers (Latin Christendom doesn’t count since it was on the poor end of Eurasia and under Islamic blockade).

      The current wave of secular credentialism in the West is rather shallow though this shallowness sits like a pimple atop a deeper and richer civil service tradition that arose in the papal curia and was nourished in Europe’s nascent universities. The collapse of credential-based official system in Western Europe and its ongoing presence on a knife’s edge in Byzantium was not the lack of any such system in Western Eurasia, it was another victim of the bolt from the blue victory of the Arabs at the River Yarmook.

      Some strains of the current attack on credentials have merit: like any attempt at impartial measure, credentials falls victim to Goodhart’s law: “When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.” And, in many cases, credential is merely another synonym for “They’re related to someone who can grant them the credential necessary for getting that job the person related to them wants them to fill.”

      But, like many threads in modern American bastard capitalism, the attack on credentialism is merely another way to smuggle hereditary privilege through the backdoor and undermine a century of checks and balances placed on the genetic lottery. For every Great Captain of Industry that went on to do X because their arbitrary power was heroically unshackled to let their genius roam free unfettered, there are a million pygmies for which freedom from credentials and other restraints is merely a form of aggressive jerk empowerment.

      Remove such checks and balances with care: the old world of birth and privilege never went away and it’s always trying to return. When you seen new dynasties arise as if from the dust, you can never get away with saying that you haven’t been warned.

    9. Grurray Says:

      blaming things on the king’s “evil counselors” and world-wearily musings “If only the little father knew” when more than half the time it really is the born to the purple prince who’s the problem.

      Supposed king-maker Steve Bannon comes to mind, among others past and present in Trump’s administration. I think Trump encourages this type of thing because he picks so many disparate and squabbling advisers. Like the Ottomans, he keeps the subjects fighting each other so they don’t fight him. But then again, we always had a fascination with the eminence grise.

      I, for one, miss the Byzantines and am still pissed about Yarmouk. Speaking of time machines, I know where I would go if I had one- to 7th century Golan Heights to shore up the Roman flanks (yes they were indeed still Romans).

      And while we’re on the subject of knife’s edge, I read this great Confucian term awhile back. Shiz-hong, timely balance. It reminded me of the Greek word kairos, which is usually used to indicate a ‘crucial time’, but which was also used, such as in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, to mean providential time, for better or for worse, dumb luck or bad luck, not necessarily for any discernible reason. I guess what it might mean here is that, even if we are warned, we may not have anything to do besides maybe virtuously jumping out of the way. If we’re lucky, that is.

    10. Mike K Says:

      “If only the little father knew” when more than half the time it really is the born to the purple prince who’s the problem.

      “If only Comrade Stalin knew of this…”

    11. David Foster Says:

      L C Rees…”But, like many threads in modern American bastard capitalism, the attack on credentialism is merely another way to smuggle hereditary privilege through the backdoor and undermine a century of checks and balances placed on the genetic lottery.”

      Disagree. Actually, hereditary privilege is very useful for the acquisition of credentials: for example, alumni preferences at Ivy League universities.

      Educational credentials increasingly don’t have a whole lot to do with the actual acquisition of knowledge and the ability to use same: for example, parents who don’t vaccinate kids tend to be affluent, better educated.

      A lot of human talent is being wasted due to excess credentialism. I’m confident that, in the last week, a very competent bank employee didn’t get promoted to branch manager because she didn’t have a college degree. And a branch manager who did have a college degree didn’t get a job as a regional marketing executive because he didn’t have an MBA. And someone who did have an MBA didn’t get a job in investment banking because the MBA wasn’t from an “elite” college.

    12. David Foster Says:

      I’ve previously quoted this 1969 passage from Peter Drucker:

      One thing it (modern society) cannot afford in education is the “elite institution” which has a monopoly on social standing, on prestige, and on the command positions in society and economy. Oxford and Cambridge are important reasons for the English brain drain. A main reason for the technology gap is the Grande Ecole such as the Ecole Polytechnique or the Ecole Normale. These elite institutions may do a magnificent job of education, but only their graduates normally get into the command positions. Only their faculties “matter.” This restricts and impoverishes the whole society…The Harvard Law School might like to be a Grande Ecole and to claim for its graduates a preferential position. But American society has never been willing to accept this claim…

      We as a country are a lot closer to accepting Grande Ecole status for Harvard Law School and similar institutions than we were when Drucker wrote the above.

      He continues:

      It is almost impossible to explain to a European that the strength of American higher education lies in this absence of schools for leaders and schools for followers. It is almost impossible to explain to a European that the engineer with a degree from North Idaho A. and M. is an engineer and not a draftsman.

      Too much focus on educational credentials throws away the American advantage of which Drucker spoke.