Friday, January 20, 2017

Calling Miss Manners

I don’t want to sound like a complete curmudgeon, so I will open this post about behavioral economics by praising Dan Ariely. Since members of his profession cannot resist the temptation to tell people how to conduct their lives, Ariely now offers an advice column in the Wall Street Journal.

Ariely’s column does not even approach the level of badness we see in New York Magazine’s Ask Polly, but, truth be told, if you are looking for advice you would do better to ask Miss Manners.

Recently, Ariely offered some sage advice. When you are facing a task that you would like to avoid, try developing a daily ritual, a consistent set of behaviors that ground you and shift your focus onto the task at hand.

For Ariely, it’s morning coffee. He makes it the same way with the same kinds of beans using the same utensils for the same mug.

He writes:

I adore my morning coffee, so I’ve transformed it into a daily ceremony by using the same mug, savoring the grinding of the beans, watching the coffee pour from the machine and smelling the aroma as it spreads throughout the room. I then take the cup to my office, sit at my desk and move to the important part: I connect this marvelous mug of coffee to a continuing task that matters deeply to me.

So far, so good. You can take that one to the bank.

But, then, we arrive at the last letter in his column. It piques our interest, and not for a good reason. Without further ado, here is Amy’s plaintive question:

Is love overrated? I am deeply in love with someone, but to be with them, I’ll have to change jobs and cities. Should I make these changes and hope that this love will last, or should I assume that this love, like most loves, is doomed to fade and not worth the risk?

You will have noted that Amy is a mentally challenged millennial. We are all happy to discover that she is in love with someone, but we are less than thrilled—for her, of course—to discover that this “someone” is a “them.”

Unless she is in love with a group of people—as in polyamory— she is using the plural pronoun in order to show that she is politically correct. Thus, that she does not want to offend those whose love is more idiosyncratic. In short, she is hiding the gender of her inamorato. Or, is it her inamorata?

The query is shrouded in confusion. Which ought to tell us to exercise great caution before addressing it. This does not deter Ariely from offering some less than illuminating advice. In his words:

Wait a few months, and if you still feel as ardent about your partner, take the chance. In general, the odds are very much against us when we start almost anything: a business, a book, an exercise regimen. But we often encourage people to do these things anyway, so why not for love? The odds are low that your love will burn as brightly in 10 years, but some risks in life are worth taking.

In other words, what the Hell! He has nothing to offer so he goes with love. What could be wrong about that? But, what does that have to do with behavioral economics? Wherefrom derives his expertise in matters of the heart?

Following your bliss does not sound like the best rationale. If Amy will be happy in the new city without her inamorato or inamorata then she might decide to make the move. But, she ought to learn how to make better decisions. And the path to better decisions must take account of the situation at hand. About that she tells us nothing at all.

Knowing how she feels tells us nothing. We want to know the nature of the relationship and whether or not the man in question—the laws of probability being what they are this is not most likely case-- is going to make her an honest woman at any time in the future. This ought not to be limited to the question of how true her love is. What about him? What has he offered? Has he offered anything beyond a plane ticket? Will they be living together? Will they be engaged, will they marry or will she become his official concubine? Without such understanding it's a bad bet.

Unfortunately for Amy, she is describing her dilemma and her relationship only in terms of her own feelings. This tells us that she has no real sense of what it means to be in a relationship. It’s not a good sign. True enough, love is overrated. Making decisions as though you are a human monad is also overrated. Without knowing about this relationship or the state of the negotiation, we ought to not to be offering advice.

What Went Wrong?

Over at the 538 blog wunderkind Nate Silver is reassessing his election forecasts. Silver did not get it as wrong as many other statisticians, but still his 30% number for Trump’s chances was off the mark. His and many other pollsters’ predictions of the aggregate vote were close to correct. Since the election was not decided on the basis of raw popular vote, the numbers were irrelevant.

Now, Silver is going to publish a series of articles explaining what went wrong… not just for him, but also for other political commentators. The Trump/Clinton election stands out as a shining instance of confirmation bias. See my post two days ago..

In this paragraph he offers a fine synopsis, or, if you prefer, a diagnosis of media confirmation bias:

Why, then, had so many people who covered the campaign been so confident of Clinton’s chances? This is the question I’ve spent the past two to three months thinking about. It turns out to have some complicated answers, which is why it’s taken some time to put this article together (and this is actually the introduction to a long series of articles on this question that we’ll publish over the next few weeks). But the answers are potentially a lot more instructive for how to cover Trump’s White House and future elections than the ones you’d get by simply blaming the polls for the failure to foresee the outcome. They also suggest there are real shortcomings in how American politics are covered, including pervasive groupthink among media elites, an unhealthy obsession with the insider’s view of politics, a lack of analytical rigor, a failure to appreciate uncertainty, a sluggishness to self-correct when new evidence contradicts pre-existing beliefs, and a narrow viewpoint that lacks perspective from the longer arc of American history.

Welcome to the Age of Trump

You know the theory of contrary sentiment. It tells us that when investors become too optimistic the stock market will decline. And vice versa.

One recalls that soothsayer Paul Krugman greeted the announcement of the Trump victory by saying that the stock market was declining and would never recover. It took a matter of hours to prove this most confident of polemicists to be wrong. If that does not flood your mind with Schadenfreude consider that George Soros lost a billion dollars betting against Trump.

Now, Donald Trump takes over the American presidency at noon today with a very low approval rating. At least, compared with his predecessors. One must say that his own antics have contributed to it. And yet, whatever you think of Trump, he is not the Antichrist incarnate. When people go to war against Trump they are showing that Barack Obama has produced a nation at war with itself. No one should be bragging about this.

As I have often noted, the challenge of analyzing the Obama years is understanding the disconnect between a man who seems to be so decorous and a nation that is divided into warring factions. At least, it suggests that the decorous and virtuous veneer has been hiding something more sinister.

If Democrats and their cohorts become too disruptive, the first time something goes wrong they will be taxed with responsibility. Moreover, the belligerent attitude, the wish to engage in constant struggle and fighting must be intended to cover over the fact that the Obama administration spent eight years projecting weakness around the world. It’s nice enough for Samantha Powers to declare that we ought to be going to war against Russia, but where has she been these many years. Within the bosom of the Obama administration. That’s where. Bending over and submitting to Vladimir Putin, that’s also where.

And yet, Trump’s low approval ratings—lower than previous presidents—offer an opportunity. Given how much Trump has been demonized he can only disappoint in one direction—to the upside.

So suggests the Wall Street Journal this morning in its lead editorial:

Democratic leaders are calling his election illegitimate, and most of the media wants Mr. Trump to implode—for reasons of partisanship, ideology or simply to vindicate their view during the campaign that he couldn’t and shouldn’t win. No President since Nixon will face a more hostile resistance in the press and permanent bureaucracy.

Yet rather than rage against this hostility, Mr. Trump should view it as an opportunity. So many elites expect him to fail that even small early successes will confound them. So many on the left are predicting the rise of fascism that he can make them look foolish by working well with Congress. So many in the media will portray him as the leader of a gang of billionaires that he can turn the tables with an up-from-poverty and education choice campaign.

Let’s say that the demonization is an opportunity and that constructive proposals from the incoming Trump administration, coupled with civil behavior and good work with Congress will make the president’s detractors look slightly unhinged.

One does not believe that the drumbeat of media and Democratic hostility will let up. But, if Trump does not turn out to be as horrifying as they expect, they will look like they are not in touch with reality.

Among the reasons that people hate Trump we count this one. They hate Trump because their agenda is to glorify the Obama years. They despise the notion that the American people have repudiated him and especially his agenda. They despise the people who voted for Trump. Expect them to fill the media and the history books with tales of the return of Camelot. All the horror stories about Trump are laying the groundwork for the beatification of Obama.

[Addendum. About the old and surely correct idea that great minds think alike, I just fell upon Rich Lowry's analysis of the Obama/JFK meme. I offer a link for your delectation.]

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Disloyal Opposition

The sky is falling! The sky is falling!

Remember when Chicken Little warned of an impending apocalypse.

Apparently, we are closer to the apocalypse than we think. Were you to believe Democratic Congresspersons, the media and militant Hollywood the advent of Donald Trump will usher in a new Dark Ages, a time when the light of reason will be snuffed out by the voices of vulgar emotion. Following fast upon the halcyon days of the Age of Obama, the Age of Trump will see jackbooted Nazis running wild across America. It will see a president who does not respect the law or the constitution. It will see a president who seems unable to moderate his thoughts or emotions.

Those who oppose Trump no longer pretend to be the loyal opposition. They tell us that his election was illegitimate, that he is not really their president and that they will become an armed resistance fighting the scourge of Neo-Nazism.

A man set himself on fire in front of the Trump Hotel in Washington yesterday. He wanted to show us how strongly he felt. He wanted to show that he was fighting against the raw Trumpian emotion by showing that his emotions were more raw and more irrational.

An opera singer who was asked to perform at the Trump inauguration was showered with death threats. A Broadway star named Jennifer Holliday was threatened with death and with career implosion. As I said, the world is not exactly awash in rational thought.

Think about it: death threats! We are living in a time where people refuse to respect the opposition, reject the results of an election because their candidate lost and retreat to the trenches to resist—you know, as a few French people did during World War II after they surrendered to the Third Reich.

When Donald Trump suggested during a presidential debate that he might not accept the results of the election, Hillary Clinton rightly denounced his failure to keep faith with America. Now, when members of Congress declare that Trump’s election was illegitimate, they are a profile in courage.

Our current president could not even bring himself to recommend that they attend. One notes, yet again, that the perfectly courtly and decorous Barack Obama has been an extremely divisive president. As someone wrote this morning, how many times did Obama cut deals with Congressional Republicans? And how many times did he stand up for America?

Now, the woman who was in very large part responsible for the Trump victory, that would be Kellyanne Conway, has been defamed by a clown named Samantha Bee for enabling a “pussy grabber”. When did Bee or any other good feminist defame Hillary Clinton for having enabled her husband’s sexual abuse and rape?

Meryl Streep was not speaking truth to power when she attacked Trump at the Golden Globe Awards. She was preaching to the choir. And yet, when she ran through a list of actors who had been born in foreign countries, she managed to single out Natalie Portman by neglecting to mention the nation of Portman’s birth. Streep said that Portman had been born in Jerusalem.

Had she said "Jerusalem, Israel" she would have offended those who were happy to see Barack Obama abstain from a United Nations Security Council vote declaring East Jerusalem and a number of Jewish holy sites to belong to the Palestinians. When she was called out on the slight by Portman’s representatives, Streep backed down.

Those who oppose Trump are not even pretending to be loyal. They are pulling a Colin Kaepernick and refusing to accept the election results. As Hillary herself pointed out when Trump suggested as much, it’s not an act of loyal dissent.

So the new resistance rejects Trump because he is irrational, emotional and unhinged. It does so by being more irrational, emotional and unhinged. They are making Trump look rational and deliberate. One suspects that that was not their goal.

True enough, Trump did not run a very decorous campaign. I expressed my own dismay on more than one occasion.

But, apparently, Trump  did not mean any of it. It was all theatre, all show. If we want to judge Trump, we can examine his behavior as president-in-waiting. We can be distressed by his engagement in Twitter wars, but we can also look at the people he nominated to the cabinet.

Like it or not, most of them are people of achievement. They were nominated on the basis of merit, not to fulfill diversity quotas. Are Trump’s detractors unhinged because he is bringing back meritocracy? Did the American people reject Hillary Clinton on the basis of her demerits?

Obama himself was not elected on the basis of anything resembling an achievement. He was certainly not qualified for the office. And yet, we are all obliged to say that he was the greatest, lest we be called bigots. If Colin Powell had been the first African-American president we would not have had an endless conversation about race.

Cornell West got it right in the Guardian:

The reign of Obama did not produce the nightmare of Donald Trump – but it did contribute to it. And those Obama cheerleaders who refused to make him accountable bear some responsibility. 

In fairness, West criticizes Obama for not being sufficiently leftist. With that caveat in mind, we agree with him that the failure of the Obama presidency lies not only in the man but in the cheerleaders who bowed in idolatrous obeisance to everything he did.

You would think that they would be slightly embarrassed to have abandoned their rational and critical faculties. You would be wrong.

Most of Trump’s appointees are apolitical; they have not sworn allegiance to a political party. Most are not ideologically inclined. Most are rich, meaning that they are not in it for the money or even for the fame. Or to prepare themselves for future office.

You can argue against them, but you should also admit that they are for the most part competent executives who know their stuff and who have relevant experience. None of them are likely to allow themselves to be pushed anyone.

Of course, the Clinton campaign wanted to run against Donald Trump. So did most members of the elite media. (As they say, be careful what you wish for....) Trump had been a Democrat all his life and was surely an amateur. Now, however, he is morphing into a Republican. Writers on the Powerline blog have suggested, reasonably, that the unhinged leftist attacks on Trump are going to push him further to the political right.

Were you to ask yourself why people voted for Donald Trump you could conjure up many answers. The state of the economy must be near the top of the list. The American people, exception made for a privileged few, are not doing very well.  For our purposes today, I would reiterate another point, one that I have made on occasion. The Trump candidacy was a reaction against cultural tyranny, the culture tyranny of political correctness. It pervades the media. It is taught as gospel truth in our schools and offered up as propaganda by the entertainment business. It was the guiding light of the Obama administration.

What else did it mean that Obama commuted the prison sentence of transgender icon Chelsea/Bradley Manning? Committing treason was for nothing when it came to Obama’s empathy for the suffering of Pvt. Manning. All the people who were massacred by the Taliban on the basis of the intelligence information that Manning leaked… of no consequence. The real war was against political incorrectness.

And, Obama also commuted the sentence of a terrorist named Oscar Lopez Rivera, a man who had been responsible for dozens of terrorist bombings. None of it mattered because he was a hero to Puerto Rican people. As we know ethnic identity must always trump loyalty to the nation.

Many people voted for Trump on nationalistic grounds. He was for America, not for any faction. People wanted to assert pride in their country after having undergone a presidency that did everything it could to diminish same. Apparently, people believed that the tyranny was so pervasive that they wanted it to be bulldozed. Anyone who owes his job or his career or his college acceptance to identity politics is obviously threatened by a return of national pride and especially by a return to meritocracy.

But, those who live in the politically correct bubble have no interest in rational debate or deliberation. They feel what they feel and that’s all they need. They do not know and do not want to know that their deeply held opinions make no sense. That’s why they are so emotional.

It makes no sense to imagine, as Gen. James Mattis was asked at his hearing, that having more women in the combat infantry will not detract from military effectiveness. And yet, Mattis felt constrained to follow the party line—that being the notion that there is no real difference between men and women—lest he ignite a firestorm among politically correct Democrats.

The Obama administration has fought a culture war. The enemy has been white males. And, of course, that great beacon of Judeo-Christian civilization— Israel.  Surely, Obama felt like a weakling when seated next to a man who fought as a commando against terrorists. Obama’s petulant displays of anti-Israeli sentiment gave us a hint.

White males were the enemy of the Obama administration. Everyone else was welcome to join a political coalition of the aggrieved and the oppressed.

That this coalition did not turn out to vote for Hillary Clinton was the most unkindest cut of all.

To be more precise, it’s all more about ideology than about being oppressed. Culture warriors will immediately defame any member of an aggrieved class who seems to have sympathies toward his or her oppressor. A woman who does not buy into feminist ideology is not a real woman. An African-American who does not support the ideology is unacceptable and must be shunned as an Uncle Tom.

The Obama years saw America descend into a Cultural Revolution where  you were not judged according to the content of your character but according to the political correctness of your beliefs. As I have occasionally noted, it was a war against a state of mind. Such wars tend to count among the worst and most divisive.

This morning the New York Times offered an article about Mao Zedong’s Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution… the gold standard in pogroms.

Helen Gao explains how it was. See if any of it sounds familiar:

Cultural Revolution trauma differs from that related to other horrific events, like the Holocaust and the Rwandan genocidestudies have noted, in part because in China, people were persecuted not for “unalterable” characteristics such as ethnicity and race, but for having the wrong frame of mind. Constant scrutiny of one’s own thinking and actions for signs of political deviance became a necessity for survival that sometimes carried unbearable weight.

Since no one knows anyone else’s frame of mind, the night riders of the thought police used the Cultural Revolution to settle scores:

Fickle political winds turned attackers into targets overnight, causing people to label one another class enemies less out of ideological conviction than out of revenge or pressure to toe the right line. The blurry distinction between perpetrators and victims makes collective healing by confronting the past a thorny project.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

An Orgy of Confirmation Bias

As you know, Freud was in the business of interpreting. He told people what it all meant. Or, what it appeared to mean. The meaning of life, the meaning of death, the meaning of the universe… whatever it was, Freud claimed to know what it meant.

Invariably, the meaning was all about desire. Freud knew what people really, really wanted. This implies, of course, that he could read minds. Why would he know better than you what you wanted?

As it happens, your desire is not an objective fact. You cannot determine empirically, on the basis of evidence, that you want an ice cream cone or a trip to Tahiti. And even if you are persuaded that you know what you want, no one else can really claim to have any objective knowledge of your desire… beyond what you tell him.

You sense that you want this and not that. You act on your sense impression, but that is not the same as knowing, for example, that a cat is on a mat. The latter can be determined objectively. Your desire cannot.

One thing we know about desire is that if you have something you cannot want it. By definition. Wanting something means not having it. You can say that you wish you were anywhere but where you are right now, but you cannot say, in English, that you wish you were where you are. It makes no sense. No one uses such sentences.

No fact proves that you desire something. Just because you do not have a carpet in your hallway does not mean that you want to carpet the hallway.

Nowadays, as the emotionally overwrought have lit upon the notion that the incoming president has no relationship with facts, one feels constrained to note that the outgoing president has never let himself be constrained by fact or by constitutional law or by loyalty to America.

If one can argue cogently that the incoming president is not qualified for the office he is about to assume, what mind warp can possibly make it that the outgoing president was even remotely qualified for the office of the presidency.

In a fact-free world, Obama was supremely qualified, his presidency was a rousing success and Hillary Clinton was the most qualified candidate for the presidency… ever. In a fact-free world you can say what you want and then force people to believe it all… as a higher truth. What matters is not what is true but what you want to be true.

During the Obama years America took leave of fact. Now, with the incoming Trump administration, Americans are rediscovering facts.

You know which ones. Take the fact that tells us, biologically, based on chromosomes, that Bradley Manning is a male. It’s a fact. And yet, Manning believes that he is a she and if you deny the fact you are a bigot. And now, our fact-challenged president, reverting to the kind of thinking that caused him to spend two decades lapping up the hate-filled swill issuing from Rev. Jeremiah Wright, has decided that Manning’s betrayal of America was no big deal.

Is it a fact that no one died as a result of Manning’s treason? The New York Times says so. Thus, you can ignore the fact that terrorists the world over pored through the documents that Manning leaked and exacted revenge on anyone who remotely resembled the people described therein. It’s a fact.

Freud liked to pretend that his interpretations could be proved or disproved. Early in his career he claimed that if hysterics said that they desired X and then obtained X, and if they were not satisfied with X that meant that they did not know what they wanted. Thus, they were neurotic and needed psychoanalysis.

One must mention again that this is grossly disrespectful to women, but it is also a seducer’s ploy. If a seducer can persuade a woman that she does not know what she wants, he is on the road to convincing her that she wants him, only she does not know it. That is the point of psychoanalysis.

Later, Freud declared that if his interpretation elicited a patient’s memory or fantasy, that piece of psychic data confirmed that he was right. Later,  Karl Popper argued persuasively that Freud would not accept the existence of a fact that could disprove his interpretations or his theories. Ergo, that he was not doing science but was trafficking in an ideology. He was not transmitting knowledge but was running a polemic. One whose goal was to persuade you to believe something—most often, a narrative—that made no sense.

But, what happens when we examine Freud’s practice through the theories of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Twersky, especially their theories of confirmation bias. One mentions in passing that those who claim that the K/T theories show that we are more irrational than we think we are should be careful lest they end up throwing out the Enlightenment. Today’s world is not running short on irrational thinking, so let’s not encourage this bad habit.

Anyway, New York Magazine defined confirmation bias:

Confirmation bias comes from when you have an interpretation, and you adopt it, and then, top down, you force everything to fit that interpretation,” Kahneman says. “That’s a process that we know occurs in perception that resolves ambiguity, and it’s highly plausible that a similar process occurs in thinking.

At that point you can kiss psychoanalysis good-bye. It becomes an orgy of confirmation bias. The truth is, that a patient in psychoanalysis-- like many patients in less rigorous and less orthodox treatments-- develops a bias toward finding material that will confirm whatever his therapist is selling.

On a more philosophical note, we can ask whether information that confirms you bias is a fact. What do you think of the economic recovery? It’s a fact that the current unemployment rate is below 5%. It’s also a fact that the workforce participation rate is as low as it has been in four decades. If you only look at the first fact you will be confirming your bias. The truth lies in the qualification offered by the second fact.

We should ask this question: when is a fact not a fact? All facts are not created equal. All facts do not have the same value. Any prosecuting attorney can put together a bunch of facts to prove that Col. Mustard killed Mrs. Peacock in the library with a candlestick. The police found his fingerprint on the murder weapon and they know that he had good reason to want her dead. The fingerprint is a fact. How it got there is speculation? What it does or does not prove is a question.

Once you determine that Col. Mustard was out of the country at the time of the murder, the fingerprint remains a fact. It is no longer a relevant fact. It appears to show something that it does not show.

So, when is a fact not a fact? The answer is: when it is an appearance. When a datum appears to demonstrate something, to prove a point, to confirm your bias… it may or may not be a fact. That is, it may or may not prove the point that you want it to prove. It might appear to do so, but that does not mean that it necessarily does so.

One understands that the intellectual tradition called Western idealism is based on appearances. Plato did not believe that you could ever have objective knowledge of real objects. Despite what some people persist in thinking you cannot produce scientific thought out of Plato’s theories.

Later idealists believed that we could only know things as they appeared to us, as we processed appearances. Our knowledge was limited to what came to be known as phenomena. Beginning with Kant, those who believe in phenomena tell us that we never really see things as they are. We only see things as they appear to us. Or else, Nietzsche declared that there are no facts. There are only interpretations.

This implies, to the minds of idealistic philosophers, that we can change the world if we learn to think differently or if we rid our minds of bias. We can never really know what is. We can only know how things appear to us.

Thus, the world is overrun with thought police who want to teach you the correct way to see the real world. Examine the following case. During the Obama years, the president’s home town, led by one of his most stalwart allies, became a killing field. The murder rate spiked. The incidence of gun violence spiked. What percentage of those crimes have been black-on-black? Probably the number is well over 90%. How does the Obama Justice Department deal with the problem? You guessed it, by issuing a report about racial animus on the part of the Chicago police department. Thus, with one fell swoop it exonerates those who have committed murder and mayhem… and has blamed it all on the police.

Confirmation bias, anyone? What’s the word for: willfully blind to reality?

As K/T and Popper and others have been at pains to point out, empirical science does not begin with bias. It does not even begin with a narrative or a theory. It begins by collecting the facts, the data. Then it formulates a hypothesis and, if it wants to do science, creates an experiment to test it. It must, Richard Feynman insisted, report all the facts, those that would tend to confirm the hypothesis and those that would disprove it. Then you can evaluate the hypothesis on a rational basis, on the basis of the evidence. If there is no such thing as a fact that can disprove your bias, you are within the tradition of Western idealism. If you allow the facts to challenge and to disprove your theories, you are engaging in rational thought and are using the scientific method.

Quotation of the Day

From Andrew McCarthy, in National Review:

… the degree to which Obama has wielded executive power in favor of America’s enemies and against his own political opponents and scapegoats is breathtaking. The treasonous Manning gets an 80 percent shave off his sentence. Now we learn Oscar Lopez-Rivera, an unrepentant FALN terrorist convicted of waging war against the United States, has also had his sentence commuted. Taliban commanders are released, replenishing our jihadist enemies even as they continue prosecuting a terrorist war against our troops and allies, in exchange for Bowe Bergdahl, a deserter who may, at least indirectly, have caused the deaths of American soldiers. Iran is enriched and empowered with tens of billions of dollars – including ransom cash – and a mammoth nuclear energy program (with the certainty that it will yield a nuclear weapons stockpile) even as it remains the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism calling for “death to America.”

But if you are Dinesh D’Souza, a conservative Obama critic, the Justice Department inflates an administrative violation into multiple felonies and aggressively advocates (thankfully, without success) for a stiff prison sentence. If you are a tea party group gearing up to fight Obama’s re-election, here comes the IRS. If you are “anti-Muslim video producer” Nakoula Basseley Nakoula and Obama needs a scapegoat for his derelictions in Benghazi, you end up in the slammer. If you are a deep-pocketed financial institution that Obama wants to make the culprit for the government-driven financial meltdown, or to raid so the radical left’s legion of “community organizers” can be funded, prepare to pony up a 9- or 10-figure “settlement.” If you are a police department, be ready to be scandalized as a practitioner of racially malicious enforcement. If you are Israel, brace for the “international outlaw” smear.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Work/Life Balance and the Right to Laziness

In France, where the unemployment rate is chronically fixed at around 10%, the Socialist government has found a new way to interfere in the marketplace. It has just decreed “a right to disconnect.” All workers now have the right to ignore company emails when they are not on the job.

It will give them more time to connect with their friends on Facebook and to frequent Pornhub. Leave it to the French.

Do you think that the right to disconnect will make the economy run more efficiently? Will it help businesses to coordinate their activities? What happens when something goes wrong while everyone is off enjoying their leisure?

As it happens, this “right” is really an obligation. You do not have the right to do otherwise than to obey the diktat. You didn't think that this was about freedom, did you?  NPR describes it:

Companies with more than 50 employees will be obligated to set up hours — normally during the evening and weekend — when staff are not to send or respond to emails.

Call it the incommunicado rule; no one is allowed to communicate about any business matter outside of business hours. We await information about whether or not employees are allowed to use the telephone to call each other. Also, how can anyone enforce this law? What happens if people use private email accounts? Will this law function like a French tax system that has made evading taxes into a national sport?

I do not need to tell you that the well-intentioned French are basing the law on the fact that all of those extra emails cause stress. And we cannot have that. No one seems to care whether a company will be running more efficiently and effectively and whether it will be more competitive in the world market when everyone is tuned out for most of the week. What if your international competitors are not as dumb as you? What if they work more hours and are always available when something goes wrong? How will this law contribute to competitiveness?

Obviously, it’s a dumb idea. It comes to us from a nation that prides itself on its ideas. Like the compulsory 35 hour work week. According to that law you do not have the right to work more than 35 hours a week. The reasoning was  simple: if you work fewer hours your company will have to hire more people to do the job. Thus employment will increase.

Unfortunately, the policy has done nothing to move the unemployment rate… largely because it is simply too expensive to hire people and France. And once you do hire them it’s nearly impossible to fire them. French workers have been marching in the streets against changes—proposed by Socialist government—that would make it easier to fire workers.

The net effect of all this well-intentioned meddling in the marketplace is that the best and the brightest of France’s young people have moved to London. Where they do not have a 35 hour work week, where they do not have rules for using email after hours, and where the bureaucracy and the tax code are vastly more congenial. Literally hundreds of thousands of the most capable French young people are now living in London.

The other consequence is that the man who is most likely to become the next president of France, Francois Fillon, is running as a Thatcherite conservative… what the French, with customary Gallic contempt… call a neoliberal.

Now, Grant Cardone writes on CNBC that the French government has turned its citizens into a nation of slackers. It has bought the concept of work/life balance, and has used it to undermine business and to compromise everyone’s prospect for career advancement.

After all, work/life balance is sucker bait. It will be the epitaph on the tombstone of no small number of dead careers.

Besides, Cardone points out, if you have a middle class income you do not need work/life balance. You need more money. You do not need comfort. You need financial freedom. Leave it to the business press to speak a truth that everyone can understand.

One must note that the concept of work/life balance was designed to get men out of the marketplace and into the home, where they can help with housework. It’s another scheme to equalize the tasks performed by men and women. The right to disconnect will not only undermine a man’s career prospects and cause his company to run less efficiently. It will make him a better homemaker. No one ever says this, but we are among friends… right?

As for the burnout that the French fear, Cardone suggests that people burn out because they have found no purpose in their work. One might add that they might feel burned out because they have been deprived of their freedom to choose when to work and not to work. All of that government interference, all of those great vacations, it demoralizes you. I need not mention that France offers the most generous vacation package of any nation. It prides itself on its ability to enjoy leisure, not on its ability to be productive. If that does not depress you, nothing will.

You do better to stop thinking about how many hours you can take off from work, Cardone adds. You should think of what you can contribute and, I would add, how you can gain pride from being part of a good business.

In the old days they used to call it “sloth.” Today we are less theologically inclined and call it: laziness. To Cardone, that is the bottom line. The French are lazy.

Laziness is an entitlement concept accepted by the middle class that crushes any chance you have of greatness.

The French have just legislated laziness as a right. Apparently the 35 hours employees there suffer through is too much and they can't be bothered with any work-related business emails over their long weekends.

And French entitlement has gotten a foothold in the U.S. Many people here believe the government should take care of them.

Take a moment and think about why you must have five days to work and take the weekend off regardless of your personal finances. If I were making $60,000 a year, I would not be content working eight hours at a job that I leave at 5:00 pm.

You have to get your hustle on to get your financial freedom. Of course it's not just about the hustle, you need , too. But the biggest obstacle of many is the entitlement mentality. 

Rather than seeking comfort and leisure, you should be trying to achieve greatness. Other management gurus, like Peter Drucker, have suggested as much. Aristotle certainly agreed. Achievement brings a state of happiness that is quite different from the one gained by indulging in decadent pursuits. 

In America, people are getting duped into thinking that they ought to be seeking work/life balance. They get duped into thinking that happiness means flourishing. They get duped into thinking that they should not be seeking greatness, but should get on the road to meaning… thus to telling cute stories about themselves.

Cardone is correct to warn people against the right to laziness. It points the way toward mediocrity. However meaningful your life, however much you think you are flourishing, you do better to work harder and to achieve greatness.