Fools all around

How better to mark April Fool’s day than to note some of the world’s ongoing foolishness

Exhibit A: British politicians

Whatever its outcome, the Brexit process will leave Britain at its least governable since the Seventies… A more fundamental factor is the refusal of the political class to respond intelligently to the 2016 referendum. Instead of trying to understand and implement its result, they have treated it as an eruption of unreason that must be resisted at any cost.   Instead, by seeking to thwart the result they have deepened the estrangement of voters from the political system.

Exhibit B: U.S. politicians who won’t defend the border

Along the Texas border with Mexico – from El Paso to Eagle Pass to the Rio Grande Valley – masses of migrants have been crossing the border in unprecedented numbers, overwhelming federal holding facilities and sending local leaders and volunteers scrambling to deal with the relentless waves of people.

Border Patrol officials were on pace in March for more than 100,000 apprehensions and encounters with migrants – the highest monthly tally in over a decade, he said. Around 90 percent of those – or 90,000 – crossed the border between legal ports of entry.

Increasingly, smugglers are bringing larger numbers of families together and delivering them across the Rio Grande, knowing they’ll overrun facilities and be released until their immigration court date, she said. Under U.S. law, Border Patrol is not supposed to hold any migrant for longer than 72 hours.

Usually, Border Patrol hands them over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which can detain families for up to 20 days. But all of those facilities are overcrowded, Brown said, leading Border Patrol to skip the transfer to ICE and release migrants to shelters en masse.

“This is a system-wide collapse,” she said.

Exhibit C: U.S. voters

In El Paso, Texas, I was surprised to learn that the resounding second-choice pick of Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke fans is Bernie Sanders.  They have very little in common, but that might be irrelevant. When pressed for more specifics, hardcore Beto fans at his hometown rally couldn’t point to much. Some said they believed Beto and Bernie Sanders share good character and values. Others did not care much about the difference in economic policy (Bernie being a legitimate socialist and all, with Beto being roughly pro-free trade) when asked whether that bothered them.

That’s not to say people didn’t have their reasons for supporting O’Rourke, but the message was clear throughout: O’Rourke is the new Obama, a positive campaigner, young and new on the scene, who provides necessary contrast to the current guy in charge. He gives them the warm fuzzies. Maybe that’s all it takes. Warm fuzzies should not be underestimated.

Shauna and Joe, from Greenville, Texas, drove more than 600 miles to see O’Rourke in El Paso. Like devoted groupies, they’ll be following him to his third rally today in Austin, Texas (that’s about 570 miles across Texas over the course of nine hours).

Exhibit D: Companies more interested in “virtue signaling” than in making money

Dick’s CEO Edward Stack – with evident pressure from the media and anti-gun lobby – has embarked on an escalating series of policies to restrict the chain’s sale of guns, at one point a significant part of the company’s revenue stream. Stack went so far as to formally collaborate with the Michael Bloomberg-funded Everytown for Gun Safety and to sign a letter endorsing gun control bills pending on Capitol Hill. His company even retained corporate lobbyists to press Congress for additional gun control.

Now Bloomberg’s own media outlet, Bloomberg.com, is reporting that Dick’s itself estimates the price of its anti-gun advocacy at $150 million in lost sales in 2018, or almost 2% of the company’s annual revenue.

And of course, we need to remember in our increasingly godless society, that

“The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds;
there is none who does good.”    Psalm 14:1

Happy Atheists’ Day!

Book review: “Skin in the Game”

I recently finished reading Skin in the Game – Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.  It was a thought-provoking read, boiling down observations about the impact of personal vestment (or lack thereof) in decision-making and social interactions, producing frequent pithy remarks such as this:

“Bureaucracy is a construction by which a person is conveniently separated from the consequences of his or her actions.”

The gem above appears at the end of a section discussing the consistently foolish policy of interventionism the U.S. has maintained overseas.  Our national leaders never seem to learn proper lessons about the consequences of their actions, largely because they are insulated and isolated from those consequences.  Not so, unfortunately, for many people on the ground where their policies have impact (and for the Americans put in harm’s way to enact those policies).  He notes that more than 2,400 years ago the Athenian Isocrates wrote “Deal with weaker states as you think it appropriate for stronger states to deal with you.”  Application of that thought would certainly result in some change to our foreign policy.  The author’s discussion of a perceived distinction between “the Golden Rule” and what he terms “the Silver Rule” makes for interesting reading as well.

Taleb later labels the worldwide political developments of 2014-2018 (Brexit, the election of Trump, etc) as “a rebellion against the inner circle of no-skin-in-the-game policymaking ‘clerks’ and journalist-insiders, that class of paternalistic semi-intellectual experts with some Ivy League, Oxford-Cambridge or similar label-driven education who are telling the rest of us 1) what to do, 2) what to eat, 3) how to speak, 4) how to think, and … 5) whom to vote for.”  Couldn’t have put it better myself.

The book applies the concept of personal interest in a wide-reaching manner, far more broadly than the two quotes I’ve provided would indicate.  He uses the lens to examine everything from the positive roles of risk-taking to “the dominance of the stubborn minority,” and whether a society can afford to tolerate an intolerant system such as Salafi Islam. The prose is highly readable, specifically summarizing premises as it goes along.  But it’s not a quick read if you’re engaging the material and thinking about larger implications.  I found myself breaking out the highlighter and bending page corners repeatedly so I could go back and review.

The concept of the book first interested me because I believe the loss of “skin in the game” for our political, business, science and educational leaders is a key reason why our institutions are in such decline.  Taleb seems to agree.  As I’ve put it on this blog more than once, accountability seems to be out of favor.  Businesses deemed “too big to fail” are allowed to reap profits while saddling taxpayers with losses.  Government officials seem to have a different legal system applied to their actions than would the common citizen.  Politicized “science” drives policymaking with few, if any repercussions to the industry when the “settled” view is later shown to be in error.

At any rate, if you’re looking for something weightier to read than the usual New York Times bestseller lightweights, this one is worth your attention.