Jane Galt: Modern Day Paul Erlich?

Jane Galt comments on the immigration debate and is convinced by the argument put forth by Bryan Caplan:

Suppose we have an isolated society in which everyone is a genius. Let’s call them the Brains. Who takes out the garbage? A Brain, obviously. Who does the farming? Again, Brains.

Now what happens if the geniuses come into contact with a society where everyone is of average intelligence at best? Let’s call them the Brawns. If the Brains allow the Brawns to join their society, the average genetic quality of the Brains’ society plummets. But everyone is better off as a result! Now the Brains can specialize in jobs that require high intelligence, and the Brawns can take over the menial labor. Total production goes up.

When I read this analysis I couldn’t help but think that Jane and Bryan are backing the Paul Erlich position in the Erlich-Simon Bet while those who favor rational immigration are backing the Julian Simon side. Now what’s odd here is that Erlich, the biologist, lost the bet against Simon, the economist, because he didn’t account for the role of technology and now we have two economics bloggers endorsing an analysis which also takes no account of the substitution effect of technology for unskilled labor.

Galt and Caplan are arguing that comparative advantage of offering a lifetime subsidy of $89,000 per unskilled immigrant without a high school education will free up labor to more productive uses and that the subsidy for unskilled labor is preferred to the technological substitution that we see in Japan with the rise of robots substituting for unskilled labor.

Another point that they neglect to consider in opposing what they call “Eugenic Immigration” are the externalities associated with importing and subsidizing unskilled immigration. Randall Parker goes into some of those externalities in this post.

Seeing how they’re mooting the question of Eugenic Immigration let me offer another proposition – by opposing an immigration policy Galt and Caplan set up a dynamic to enhance dysgenic trends because the US, with a mean IQ of 100, has the misfortune to be flooded with illegal immigrants with a mean IQ of 90. China, on the other hand, has a substantially homogeneous population with a mean IQ of 105, and they’re already instituting neo-eugenic policies. The rise of China is an issue that is already on the rader screens of our economic analysts – now let them factor divergent IQ trends into the mix in order to get a better picture of how the future plays out.

What I don’t understand is how the net present value of a taxpayer subsidy of almost $1.1 trillion for the 12 million illegals in our midst compares favorably to the labor substitution effect and the economic activity that is generated from the development, manufacture and maintenance of a robotic infrastructure and how supporting a dysgenic trend in an era of lowered social mobility can be considered a winning bet. Robert Samuelson sees the storm clouds on the horizon:

The most lunatic notion is that admitting more poor Latino workers would ease the labor market strains of retiring baby boomers. The two aren’t close substitutes for each other.

And so does Paul Krugman: (discussed here)

Finally, … our social safety net has more holes in it than it should – and low-skill immigrants threaten to unravel that safety net. … Unfortunately, low-skill immigrants don’t pay enough taxes to cover the cost of the benefits they receive.

Further, our two econo-bloggers ignore the decline in worker/population ratio from 2000 to 2005: (Bureau of Labor Statistics)

White Men: 74.9% to 73.5%
White Women: 58.5% to 57.4%
White Teens: 50.1% to 40.7%

Black Men: 68.4% to 65.2%
Black Women: 61.7% to 59.2%
Black Teens: 31.2% tp 25.3%

and the concomitant rise (20% in 4 years) in Social Security Disability Income recipients from 6,000,000 in 2000 to 7,200,000 in 2004. A good many of these recipients are discouraged workers looking for more reliable incomes than can be found competing against wage depressing illegals.

I just don’t see how the analysis works to the favor of the Galt-Caplan position, be it an economic or eugenic frame of reference. I wonder if they’ve read Amy Chua’s World on Fire for they seem to be drawing out the long-run blueprint to a US version of a market dominant minority.

See this report for more on discouraged workers.

Update: Randall Parker has more on this topic.

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Naked Apes?

My recent post on Sexual Selection mentioned the theory that the ‘hairless’ skin of humans is due to sexual selection.

After writing this I thought I would check out what is known about the evolution of human body hair. One interesting result is this Royal Society paper by Pagel and Bodmer. Their theory is that hairless skin makes it easier to remove ectoparasites like fleas and ticks, and that humans’ loss of body hair was first favoured by natural selection for this reason, then reinforced by sexual selection. [Added: this was a free pdf when I got it a week or two ago, but may now require subscription. For those who want to track it down in a library, the reference is ‘A naked ape would have fewer parasites’, by Mark Pagel and Walter Bodmer, Proceedings of the Royal Society of London (B) (Suppl.), 270, 2003, pp.S117-119. Or you may still be able to Google up a freebie. Try searching Google Scholar for key words ‘Pagel Bodmer naked ape’. When I tried this just now it still gave free access to the full text.]

As P & B recognise, it isn’t clear whether the advantage of removing crawling parasites like ticks would be offset by an increase in attacks by mosquitoes and other flying pests. Another obvious question is why, if hairless skin makes it easier to remove parasites, man is the only primate to have lost his body hair. Other primates certainly spend a lot of time grooming themselves and each other to remove fleas and ticks. P & B suggest that the loss of body hair was related to the invention of fire and clothing, which would have enabled humans (unlike other primates) to regulate the surrounding temperature. The selective advantage of removing parasites more easily would then not be constrained by the need to retain body hair for warmth at night.

Like many hypotheses in human evolution, this one seems vulnerable to the criticism of being a ‘Just So Story’. It is attractive, but difficult to prove one way or the other. And the link between the loss of body hair and the use of clothing becomes less plausible when one remembers that most modern hunter-gatherers in tropical countries (Australian aborigines, Bushmen, various pygmies), who are presumably the best model for our out-of-Africa ancestors, traditionally wore little or no clothing. The aborigines are noted for their ability to sleep naked on cold nights.

I think that any successful theory for the loss of body hair will need to look more closely at the physiology and genetics of human hair development. Humans are not really hairless at all, but have dense hair everywhere except the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. The appearance of hairlessness depends on the length and fineness of the hair, which is under complex hormonal control in different parts of the body and at different stages of the life cycle. And then there is the puzzle of lanugo, the long hair which grows all over the human fetus but disappears before or shortly after birth. Explain that by sexual selection! [Added: Wikipedia has this to say about lanugo: “Lanugo are hairs that grow on the body to attempt to insulate it because of lack of fat. It is a type of pelage. It occurs on fetuses and it is normal for the unborn baby to consume the hair, which then contributes to the newborn baby’s first faeces. Lanugo hair is usually shed and replaced by vellus hair at 36-40 weeks gestation. The presence of lanugo in newborns is a sign of premature birth. It is also a common symptom of serious anorexia nervosa, as the body attempts to insulate itself as body fat is lost.” The ‘insulation’ theory sounds to me like pure guesswork: a fetus in the womb doesn’t need insulation! I suppose the anorexia point might appear to support it, until one reflects that there is unlikely to be an evolved response to anorexia: in pre-modern conditions, anyone who got that thin would be doomed.]

Social taxonomies

Economist Evelyn L. Lehrer states in The New York Times:

During the first five years of marriage, the divorce rate for a couple of the same religion hovers around 24 percent, no matter what that religion is. But it jumps to 38 percent for a marriage between a mainline Protestant and a Catholic and 42 percent for one between a Jew and a Christian

You can read a more detailed paper at Lehrer’s website. Nothing too weird, and we shouldn’t read much into it as there are all sorts of variables that influence the type of person who marries outside their own religion/ethnic group…but, I am struck that most of the marital dissonance between Protestants and Jews also seems to crop up between Catholics and Jew. Genetically it seems clear that Roman Catholicism and Protestantism form a clade with multiple shared derived characters when compared to the outgroup of Judaism, but sociologically in the Catholic-Protestant-Jew trichotomy it is the Protestants that have been the odd ones out in relation to the two white “ethnic”religious groupings. In fact the Jewish and Catholic elites were both united against the WASP establishment until 1950. The diminution of the more crass forms of nativism and a more abstract and intellectual critique of Roman Catholicism non-religious Jews could agree with, and, the subsequent rise of “cultural issues” shattered the Catholic-Jewish alliance which crested during the second heyday of the Klu Klux Klan.

But the bigger point might be that the nature of difference is less important than the difference in the first place. Group identity and support which dissolves with an outmarriage might be more important than the multiple stresses introduced by pairwise differences between individuals, as it seems that least ideologically Catholics and Protestants should share more because of their common Christianity.

Genetics + coffee = death…or…not

Interesting paper out in JAMA, Coffee, CYP1A2 genotype, and risk of myocardial infarction:

The association between coffee intake and risk of myocardial infarction (MI) remains controversial. Coffee is a major source of caffeine, which is metabolized by the polymorphic cytochrome P450 1A2 (CYP1A2) enzyme. Individuals who are homozygous for the CYP1A2*1A allele are “rapid” caffeine metabolizers, whereas carriers of the variant CYP1A2*1F are “slow” caffeine metabolizers….Intake of coffee was associated with an increased risk of nonfatal MI only among individuals with slow caffeine metabolism, suggesting that caffeine plays a role in this association.

Imagine when insurance companies get their hands on this sort of information, they’ll give you your lowest risk lifestyle dependent on your genotypic predispositions. This sort of trait indicates the contextual response of genes and subsequent development. Genes don’t “determine” anything, they are important (or not) parameters in concert with a host of other variables.
Here is a popular press review of this paper.

French birthrate

We’ve talked about the French birthrate before, so here is a story out on that topic. Note that France has Europe’s second highest birthrate.

Ireland: 1.99
France: 1.90
Norway: 1.81
Sweden 1.75
UK: 1.74
Netherlands: 1.73
Germany: 1.37
Italy: 1.33
Spain: 1.32
Greece: 1.29

To obviate the questions of algebraically challenged readers (lovers of the qualitative query that some of you are),

1.9 = ((white French)/(total)) * fertility + ((non-white French)/(total)) * fertility

If you assume that 20% of French women who might have children are non-white (erring on the high side), and you assume that the white French fertility is 1.5, you’d get 3.5 for the non-whites. Just plug and chug possibilities. I don’t know the French language literature but my minimal knowledge of Europeans informs me that it is far less strange for French women to have multiple children than it is for Italians (as a contrast), so I don’t think the high fertility can be attributable purely to non-white residents.

John Hawks on the radio

You want to know what John Hawks sounds like? He’ll be on Radio Open Source tomorrow (there should be a web feed). I talked to David Miller about getting John on the show before he became famous in Slate, so I am going to take a little credit for this. John and Spencer Wells will be “facing off.” John, can you ask Spencer to make his email address more accessible? I’m tired of people emailing me and asking about ways to contact him!
Update: John was really amused throughout the whole show. Spencer Wells asked kind of sarcastically (?) if I was “Richard Dawkins.” No, I’m not, Spencer 🙂 Thanks to Chris Lydon for giving a shout out to me at the end of the show. Also, Brendan said that both John and Spencer were on the show at my suggestion, so that’s cool, I guess I’m a “scientific activist” of sorts now?

A Bright Spotlight On An OverDemanding UnderAchiever

Moebius Stripper responds to a comment left on her blog by a student (not her student though) who wants to set Moebius straight about the grand purpose of education. Some highlights:

– From my experience, the real learning does not take place in school anyways.

– Then, what’s the real point of going to university or college? learning? well, maybe, a little bit. I don’t think that learning something in three months and then getting tested on it(whether it’s math or statistics) can make one more educated.

– I have found, from my undergraduate experience, that professors and TA’s can be totally unreasonable and unfair when marking students’ tests. I can understand that from a teacher’s point of view, you may not think you have done anything wrong. But from the students’ point of view, we have not done anything wrong neither. And there is no reason why you must be absolutely right, and we must be absolutely wrong.

I really can’t do justice to what Moebius Stripper has written. Go read the whole thing.

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