Worthwhile Reading

Self-censorship among scientists, for ‘prosocial’ reasons…and the harm it does.

How sculpture and ornament-making has been semi-industrialized for centuries, using a device known as a pointing machine.

Selecting government officials in China –historically and at present.

Support for using violence to suppress campus speech, broken down by college major.

The growth of anti-Israel radicalism in the Democratic Party: how much of this has been due to Obama’s attitudes and associations?

The District of Columbia has established minimum education requirements (a high school diploma is not enough) for child care workers. Is there a study that validates a significant positive correlation between such training and the quality of care provided?  (What would you guess)

Katherine Boyle argues that some people are great at judging people but not great at judging systems. Others are great at evaluating systems but not people and says that it’s very rare to meet someone who is exceptional at both.

Inspirational:  A cancellation attempt that backfired.

23 thoughts on “Worthwhile Reading”

  1. Obama? How about Jimmy Carter? He came from that older Baptist belief that the Jews, and thus Israel, only succeeded when they were righteous, and in such cases God could be counted on to rescue them. That is the lesson they drew from the OT. You will notice that they did not think this lesson applied to Christians and America, which was presumably righteous enough to start with. Or something. Gandhi taught something similar about Jews and the power of civil disobedience – he who had half a billion restive Hindus going along with his pacifism For Now. It gave him a little extra oomph when dealing with the British and pretending to be Mr. Peaceful. (One of the truly evil characters of the 20th C. Complete hypocrite.)

    This meant that Jews defending themselves was not to be endorsed. Carter modified that that over time, but only slightly. The prejudice morphed but did not go away.

    I can have some sympathy for the idea taken as a general lesson, though I feel it is ultimately wrong. Russian and Romanian Baptists, Quakers, Chinese Catholics, and countless others over the centuries have taken the tack that in the long run, only the righteousness of the faithful will succeed, and we should devote ourselves entirely to the long run. As I said, wrong, but having a significant nobility to it. Yet this falls apart when one only applies it to other groups, but not one’s own.

  2. The nicest thing I can say about the article on Chinese civil servants is that it might be hidden proof of communication from a parallel universe. While I don’t have knowledge to judge the parts about the evolution of the Chinese civil service system, I, and most of us, have more than enough knowledge of Chinese history to point out that however superior the civil servants may have been, the results for the survivors and non-survivors of their policies over the centuries has been…less than optimal. Certainly, the present, quickly devolving, situation in China doesn’t make me anxious to emulate their system.

    When you look at more recent Chinese history, It’s clear that the almost miraculous transformation from a dark and closed society not much different from North Korea to a country that seemed headed for parity, at least, with the West was because of the retreat of CCP control over every aspect of existence.

    Now, the swiftly unfolding Chinese debacle is directly from the confluence of two CCP policies. The first is the long developing real estate bubble based on policies and practices that can most charitably be described as insanity on an unbelievable scale which is now collapsing. The second is a series of policies that have driven both foreigners and, with them, foreign investment out of the country. It is no longer prudent for foreigners to enter China to investigate or supervise business or most especially business disputes. One stands a very good chance of conducting negotiations from a jail cell. Reporting normal financial information can and has been classified as espionage. This has lead to the wholesale withdrawal of listings of Chinese companies from foreign exchanges. The veracity of Chinese company financial reporting, never reliable, has not been improved by threatening to jail auditors that report facts contrary to the wishes of the CCP.

    If modern China is the product of genius civil administration, I’m grateful to be spared.

  3. Let us, by all means, build a society where the highest ambition of our best and brightest is to become a clerk at the DMV. Einstein should have never left the Swiss Patent Office. The Wright brothers could have been postmasters. Imagine the memos that Hemingway could have circulated, all that talent wasted on trivial literature when it could have so illuminated the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

    I’ll stop now. I’ll even admit that some evidence of normal intelligence in the government and bureaucracy would be a major improvement over the present state of affairs. The problem, I fear, isn’t the intelligence of the bureaucrats but the incentives we have allowed to evolve. It could be worse, see China, see North Korea, watch Russia if you have the stomach. We’ll find out in November just how much worse it’s going to be.

    The blurb at the end sums it up perfectly:
    “Godfree Roberts wrote Why China Leads the World: Talent at the Top, Data in the Middle, Democracy at the Bottom, publishes the newsletter, Here Comes China, and blogs at Substack.”

    “Here Comes China” is so 2010, in a couple of years, it will be clear it should have been: “Where Went China?” I’m sure our man Godfree will be as resolute in ignoring the coming upheaval and rising death toll as he was that which came before.

  4. “The smartest two-million kids take the exam, but just 27,000 (or 0.35%) will be invited to join the ‘priesthood’, whose vows of selfless service are stricter than the Jesuits”

    Hey Godfree, Xi and Tommy Friedman called and asked you to tone it down just a bit

    I can’t find a copy of Godfree’s book in order to get deeper into his arguments, but as I go through his Substack and newsletter you get the picture that he likes to reason by analogy. That’s fine for post and short form but for more than that and it’s sloppy.

    He (and a lot of people in the US and Europe) clearly wants China and its technocratic approach to be copied. While it’s important to not have complete idiots in your civil service there is of course a trade-off in gearing your political and social system to placing your top 5% into the bureaucracy. Godfree clearly think the best thing for everyone is to have that 5% chasing a place in government. That is part of the technocratic conceit, as evidenced in Thomas Friedman’s quote “….if we could just be China for a day?”, that there are obvious, best solutions for problems and if only there was the proper focus and determination to see those through. That argument depends not only on having the best people in government, but on the assumption that the best people are capable of governing in such a fashion.

    The problem with the American civil service is not a lack of brain power, but a lack of prudence.

    The one thing that Godfree seems to be missing is that his blessed priesthood is not so much an updated Confucian civil service as a co-opted part of the CCP in its new fascistic state. Nothing has legitimacy outside of the CCP and I would be curious as to how many of those priests are not party members

    So how is China doing? Too early to tell. It did the easy part by rapidly developing through the exploitation of its niche in the global economy as a low-cost export-driven producer. It also has done the easy part of showing improvement by not being CCP v1.0 and killing 60 million people. It doesn’t take 27,000 geniuses to do that. Whether it can keep delivering the goods is an open question (though I heed to David Goldman’s admonition to focus on what China is doing right and not what it is doing wrong); massive corruption, natural sclerosis of a bureaucratic state, the cratering real estate market, doing dumb-a** things like gain-of-function research in low-security biolabs located next to major population centers

    Thomas Sowell (a man both Godfree and Tommy Friedman should read) had a thing about Stage One thinking, immediate choices seem to be easy but only if you ignore the larger complex environment in which they operate.

    Finally I cam across this quote , “Governments earn the right to rule by improving people’s lives.” Well this is not surprising given that Godfree is from a country which has renounced its original social contract (Australia), but here in US we still adhere (at least some of us) that a government earns the right to exist when it protects the people’s natural rights. As for China, the CCP ‘s right to rule ultimately rests on Tienanmen Square.

  5. Worthwhile reading about the Chinese Imperial examination system is “The Rise & Fall of the EAST: How Exams, Autocracy, Stability, and Technology brought China success, and why they might lead to its decline“, by Yasheng Huang (2023). Mr. Huang adopts the conventional view, like MCS, that China has now lost its way after the successes of the Deng Xiaoping years post-Mao. Whether that view is correct, only time will tell.

    Modern China has had one great advantage over the West — they have been in business terms a “Fast Follower”. They have been able to see the successes of the West, and adopt them; indeed, the West has been only too happy to accommodate the sensible Chinese policy of ‘build it in China’. Pursuing near-term profits, Western companies gave China the technology for ultra-modern steel plants, shipyards, automobile factories, high speed rail. computer chips. Bill Clinton even gave China rocket guidance technology, and China now has its own space station. Airbus builds planes in China, presaging the time when China becomes the world leader in aircraft as well as steel, ships, cars, etc. It now matters little if Western companies no longer want to invest in China — China already has most of the technology the West had to give. And now China has the production facilities the West gave away, and (probably more importantly) the skilled workforce that the West has lost.

    Being a “Fast Follower” also has given China the opportunity to avoid the mistakes the West has made. They can see that our economically-fascist government/industry collaboration has led to de-industrialization … and will inevitably lead to our collapse. It is a reasonable guess that China will try to improve on this Western model in their own economically-fascist government/industry collaboration. Time will tell if they can succeed.

    One thing is for sure — we in the West should not sit on our ample rear ends waiting for China to collapse. First, it may never happen. Second, if China collapses, the West will follow once we lose the cargo-cult drops of Chinese real goods we can no longer make for ourselves.

  6. From the China article: “Yet when it comes to society’s most critical need and difficult task – running the country – our smartest five percent seem poorly represented.”

    As I noted at the Twitter thread, running the country is not the proper responsibility of government workers in the United States. Elected officials are responsible for running *the government* and its specific designated functions, civil service employees are responsible for implementing the policies of those elected officials. But most aspects of ‘running the country’ take place outside of government.

  7. China, re the exams: Here’s something Peter Drucker wrote in 1969.

    “History shows a frightening parallel to the way our education is going everywhere in the world today. It is the decline of the world’s most creative, most advance, and most exciting civilization, that of China in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Until then, China had led the world in the arts and the sciences, in medicine and in mathematics, in technology and in statecraft. The reaction against independent thinking and artistic creativity that followed the invasion of the Mongols in the thirteenth century imposed the Confucian system of purely literary and purely imitative “liberal education” to the exclusion of everything else. Within a century China had become sterile and had lost her capacity to do anything new, to imagine anything new, to perceive anything new. We are, I am afraid, on the same road–and we have traveled very far along it.”

  8. It seems all of these supposed historic Chinese “advancements” are a matter of archeological hindsight and none of it seems to have helped the Chinese or lead anywhere productive. Not for the Chinese and no one in the West, outside of Marco Polo, was aware of them. What basis is the determination that Chinese medicine was so advanced? The remnants in “traditional Chinese medicine” don’t seem any less grounded in superstition, half baked analogy and just general BS than Western medicine of the same era. It has been remarkably persistent as thousands of dead rhinoceroses and tigers, killed to produce these “advanced” nostrums, attest. Western medicine has, foolishly, allowed bloodletting be relegated to tattoo and piercing parlors. The recent craze in gender mutilation may be just an attempt to regain lost profits.

    Chinese medicine has shown distinct progress in one area that may be emulated by some Western governments in the area of organ harvesting. There are stories of Falun Gong practitioners surviving long enough to make several donations. And don’t we all owe the Wuhan Institute of Virology a debt for advancing the art of gain of function.

  9. The rise of Xi and his “Ten Affirmations” point to the belief that the rapid economic growth of China was beginning to threaten social stability and (more importantly) the long-term political position of the CCP. Eliminating potential rivals among the oligarchs, bringing civic society to heel, creating an explicit external enemy… it’s all worth it to them if even if it knocks some steam out of the economy.

    From the standpoint of Xi, the CCP is navigating between Scylla and Charybdis in that while it enjoys the wealth and power that comes from economic growth it is reminded everytime it looks at the West of the socially corrosive forces that such growth brings. Of course societies enter revolutionary moments not so much during bad times as when rising expectations aren’t met. I can appreciate what Xi is trying to do… I just hope he fails miserably

    As far elected officials running the government in the US, that ship has sailed. One of the more comical parts of Godfree’s post was depicting his elite bureaucrats as some sort of selfless “priesthood.” There never has or will ever be such a creature; history is replete with self-interested bureaucracies choking the life and vitality out of a country, even his precious China.

    John Marini and others have written extensively about the growth of the Administrative State in the US since the 1960s and how it has suborned not only the Executive branch but also Congress. Marini makes an explicit distinction between governance and administration. This is partly caused by the enormous expansion of the executive branch and partly the belief (both implicit and explicit) that the “experts” in the various agencies are better at running things than the corrupt knuckleheads in the elected branches.

    One of the most important Supreme Court cases coming down in the next few weeks is Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimond which may overturn the Chevron deference (where by the courts would defer to the discretion of agencies in interpreting legislation). The other big deal is of course is a possible Trump re-election where he is mulling taking a meat axe to the top levels of the federal bureaucracy;

    Marini actually makes the case that Nixon got whacked over Watergate in a soft coup by the Administrative State because he was threatening to bring it to heel. The first Trump impeachment was initiated by the Administrative State as was Jan. 6; that’s where the action is going to be over the next 6 to 8 months.

  10. I was on a call last week where the topic of the “Assorted Flags of Sam Alito” came up. Given that the pictures in question are somewhere between 1 and 3 years old and that they are being released now at the end of the Supreme Court’s term is a pretty clear signal that the media and all the other parts of the Left are using this to intimidate the Court.

    The question is to what end?

    The conventional wisdom on the call was that it was regarding the Trump immunity case. Then someone said it might be because of Loper, after all DC has built enormous power and wealth out of agency deference.

    I asked why couldn’t it be both cases?

    Just wait until NSA and DHS get that AI they have been after.

  11. Drucker in 1969: “It is the decline of the world’s most creative, most advance, and most exciting civilization, that of China in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.”

    Writing that in 1969 — over half a century ago — during the disaster of Mao’s Cultural Revolution, it would have seemed reasonable to Mr. Drucker that there can be no recovery from decline … not for the Chinese, and not for us. However, the following half century showed that it has been possible for China to recover from centuries-long decline. Admittedly, China’s vast progress in the last half century could reasonably be portrayed as the mirror image of the West’s decline. There was no Law of the Universe that guaranteed the West would fire its productive workers and send its factories to China in pursuit of the short-term profits from de-industrialization and financialization.

    It is very unlikely that China will now do the reverse, fire Chinese workers and invest in building factories in the US. Even if they wanted to (for inscrutable reasons), they would have to get in line and wait for 10 years to get a permit, the same as Americans would. That avenue of foreign investment & technology transfer as a route to reversing the West’s decline is closed to us. Is there any other avenue to reversing the West’s decline? And would we have the intestinal fortitude to do difficult things for half a century to achieve that recovery?

  12. In a not entirely different direction, does any sane person believe that the clients of the D.C. daycares will see an advantage from requiring some sort of BS associate degree for daycare workers? Here:

    We see that D.C. holds the lead, by a considerable margin, on cost per pupil in their public schools at $34,700 each. This works out to better than $31 per pupil per hour, or, assuming 20 per class room, works out to more than $600 per hour.

    As you can see here for 4th grade math, only New Mexico and Puerto Rico score lower.

    Educational credentials have been on a steady march upward through the 20th century and it is now common for school districts to hire bachelor degrees only on the condition that they will acquire a masters within a few years. At the start, a high school degree was considered perfectly adequate for primary teachers with a 2 year Normal School degree for most high school teachers. I challenge anyone to show that the students have been well served by the change. I’m certain in my own mind that basic literacy is a fraction of what it was in all but the worst districts as late as 1970.

  13. re Katherine Boyle’s point about judging people versus judging systems: I agree that it’s rare to find people that are excellent at both, but…assuming that the term ‘systems’ includes more than technological systems such as code, to encompass business processes, organization designs, etc…then running an organization of any size and complexity requires a fair amount of skill at both.

  14. I couldn’t make any sense of Boyle’s distinction. Any system is going to be dependent, first on the people that design it and then on the people that carry it out. Beyond that, there are infinite examples of badly designed systems that often enough produced results directly contrary to the original intention, often by being subverted by the people that were supposed to be running them. Just as often, those systems looked good on paper and stated lofty goals. There are no human systems that can produce good results without the active support of the overwhelming majority of the participants.

    Look at Boeing to see what happens when a “quality” system becomes an exercise in checking boxes. One of the most basic rules is to NEVER leave something in a dangerous, incomplete state that isn’t apparent at a glance. Like installing wheel lugs finger tight or closing a door without securing it.

  15. MCS,

    I think you have the makings of a good bok, followed by an even better book and speaking tour.

    Forget about inverse correlation between spending and performance; if you were to look at DC’s spending and educational performance vs Utah which has the second lowest level of spending but consistently ranks in achievement rankings an obvious conclusion is that spending Has little to do that there is a weak correlation at best between the 2

    It isn’t just about unions. Spending levels and teachers with useless degrees stlll have a certain resonance with he population And it’s much easier to haul And it’s much easier to haul out the tried truth If you useless then to attack the real issues which involve family structure. Somebody needs to go out there to make the case to bell the cat as it were. I think your book tour would be a great chance to do so

  16. Mike,
    The real difference between D.C. and Utah isn’t how much they spend on their schools, it’s how much the parents are engaged, how much attention they are paying to their children. Not even the federal government has enough money to make up that difference.

    In Utah, parents expect their children to learn and do something when that doesn’t happen. In D.C., the parents seem satisfied to bask in all the happy talk about “improvement” without understanding that 1,000,000% improvement of 0 is still 0. They don’t seem to question or even notice that their fourth grader can’t read or their eighth grader can’t do the simplest arithmetic or read either, they just hear everything is improving and go about their business.

    The parents that send their kids to places like Siddwell have different expectations, although those seem centered around staying out of jail, out from underfoot and simply take the education part for granted, though I don’t think they’re even paying twice as much as the public schools cost.

    It isn’t hard and doesn’t take anything besides a few simple books, time and patience to teach young children to read, parents did it for millennia before public schools existed and notwithstanding the efforts of the teachers unions, still do. One of Godfree’s biggest blind spots was that for most of history, literacy in China and all the skills in calligraphy that it took to stand out on his magical test were the domain of the rich, a peasant that could even read the questions was very rare. I’ve heard that written Chinese from even a hundred years ago is as indecipherable to most modern Chinese as Sanskrit. Chinese is hard and that comes with a price as well.

    As far as writing a book, it would have to be very short. The title would be; “You Get What You Pay For”, the text would be; “The trick is knowing what you’re actually paying for.”.

  17. MCS, I couldn’t agree with you more but I also think you underestimate the length of the book you could write. Beyond your points about parental involvement and money spent you could include your first comment re: educational requirements for child care providers in DC.

    There is a larger argument to be made here regarding the false claims for always more money and more expertise to “solve” social issues. As you have pointed to neither the increasing educational level of teachers nor money per pupil seem to have a connection to educational outcomes. However more than just helping out union political supporters, expertise and money do fit the self-image of the Administrative State – that government programs (money) and experts to run them is the cure for what ails you. Call it the cult of expertise or if you like the technocratic conceit. What it can never admit to is that the solution lies outside of their control, that is the involvement of the family.

    I enjoyed pointing out Utah because I know from conversations both with the swamp denizens and LDS missionaries working the DC area that Mormons are utterly despised there.

    I think a book would be nice, followed by a nice publicity tour, in order to reframe the debate. We’re missing a golden opportunity here with all the discontent regarding education in general and an election; creating the intellectual foundation allows it be used for Politics (in the best sense of the word) There has been a lot of positive movement lately with certain states like Arizona directly addressing the need for parental involvement by diverting state K-12 aid for homeschooling programs in the form of vouchers.

  18. Speaking of the education system, here’s a story on the Scripp’s National Spelling Bee, or more properly the winner.

    Just from the title, we can see the winner is of Indian heritage, 2nd generation, surprise, surprise, but I waded through the article anyway to see if my suspicion that he was home schooled was correct. Since I saw not a single mention of any school, I claim a win. I may be wrong since the article follows the new pattern of being written in a language only superficially resembling English. Possibly, it never occurred to our crack reporter, I’m sure a proud public school product, as are all the layers of editors and checkers, to ask where he went to school. Comprehensible English grammar and syntax seems to something American newspapers just don’t do anymore and our speller is likely headed for bigger and better things. That’s one place that AI is ahead, although the content is usually BS.

  19. “…then running an organization of any size and complexity requires a fair amount of skill at both.”


    Organizational systems, at least those which are human-based, are dependent upon “people” to exist, at both ends. Theoretically, an organization exists to serve “people,” whatever they’re called – founders, stockholders, directors, managers, employees, all the way down to investors, suppliers, employees, customers, fiduciaries, and beneficiaries. I am not aware of any common organizational system not involving “people” at multiple junctures, save those animal-based, so, to that end, operating an organizational system does involve overlap between “people judgement” and “system judgement,” both present to varying degrees, and impacting the range of successfulness and unsuccessfulness attained by the organizational system in whole or in part.

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