Thursday, April 26, 2012

Mooney the spinner

Chris Mooney is a journalist who has popularized some hoary old Leftist theories about the psychology of politics. I was researching and writing about those theories when they were still "hot" so I know a bit about them. My most relevant academic journal articles on the subject are listed here. Needless to say, I found that the theories concerned did not stand up under rigorous testing.

Mooney's recent article "Liberals and conservatives don't just vote differently. They think differently" has attracted some attention so, although I have had a few laughs at Mooney's work before (See here and here), I thought I might add just a few more comments.

For a start, Mooney's work is actually more balanced than what Leftist psychologists themselves have usually said. Mooney can see that a trait ascribed to conservatives can be both a good and a bad thing, which many Leftist psychologists routinely ignored. So what Mooney does is to take a finding which could be read either way and "spin" it so that it makes Leftists look better than conservatives. So one of the things I do is to "unspin" such judgments.

But first a few excerpts from Mooney:

There's now a large body of evidence showing that those who opt for the political left and those who opt for the political right tend to process information in divergent ways and to differ on any number of psychological traits.

Perhaps most important, liberals consistently score higher on a personality measure called "openness to experience," one of the "Big Five" personality traits, which are easily assessed through standard questionnaires. That means liberals tend to be the kind of people who want to try new things, including new music, books, restaurants and vacation spots - and new ideas.

Conservatives, in contrast, tend to be less open - less exploratory, less in need of change - and more "conscientious," a trait that indicates they appreciate order and structure in their lives. This gels nicely with the standard definition of conservatism as resistance to change - in the famous words of William F. Buckley Jr., a desire to stand "athwart history, yelling `Stop!'?"

Now consider another related trait implicated in our divide over reality: the "need for cognitive closure." This describes discomfort with uncertainty and a desire to resolve it into a firm belief. Someone with a high need for closure tends to seize on a piece of information that dispels doubt or ambiguity, and then freeze, refusing to consider new information. Those who have this trait can also be expected to spend less time processing information than those who are driven by different motivations, such as achieving accuracy.

A number of studies show that conservatives tend to have a greater need for closure than do liberals, which is precisely what you would expect in light of the strong relationship between liberalism and openness. "The finding is very robust," explained Arie Kruglanski, a University of Maryland psychologist who has pioneered research in this area and worked to develop a scale for measuring the need for closure.

More here

I can't help laughing at Mooney's acceptance of the absurd Kruglanski work. You can read my close look at it here. I think I show pretty clearly that the Kruglanski questionnaire measures infantilism rather than need for closure, with Leftists being the infantile ones. And in the same paper I refer to the work of Van Hiel, one of the believers in "Openness". Van Hiel actually put some hard work into testing the theory that Leftists are more open. Rather embarrassingly, his findings were mostly the opposite of what his theory said. So the claim that Leftists are more "open" rests on sand.

And yet there may be something in it. I did some reseach using proper random sampling (a rarity among psychologists) that found Leftists to be "sensation seekers". That's not too different a concept from "openness" but just spins the opposite way. It makes Leftists look shallow rather than conservatives.

So the Mooney writings should not disturb conservatives in any way. The underlying facts are no discredit to conservatives at all.


America's REAL Inequalities

Increasingly, ordinary people get prosecuted for trifles, while politically connected people get a pass for the exact same crime, or far worse behavior.

A whale-watcher is being criminally prosecuted merely for lying about whistling at a whale. But former New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine, a big Obama booster who "stole" $1.2 billion, is not being prosecuted, despite his investment firm's massive diversion of funds from client trust accounts, a crime that Corzine "personally" ordered.

Meanwhile, a dairy-farming family in Maryland is getting prosecuted by the federal government for "structuring" - breaking up bank deposits into deposits of less than $10,000 at a time to avoid scrutiny. But former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer got a free pass for the very same offense, even though he (unlike the hapless dairy farmers) used the practice in order to hide criminal activity, making his actions much worse.

As Walter Olson notes, "structuring" is "the federal criminal offense of splitting up bank deposits so as to keep them under a threshold such as $10,000 above which banks have to report transactions to the government. Structuring is unlawful whether or not it occurs in conjunction with any other legal offense . . . Nor is there any requirement that the person be aware that there is a law banning structuring; someone who gets wind that transactions over $10,000 are reportable, and decides `What's up with that? I'll just make $9,000 deposits', has broken the Bank Secrecy Act."

Increasingly, the federal government persecutes the innocent and punishes whistleblowers, while turning a blind eye to the guilty.

In the auto bailouts, non-union retirees, pension funds, and bondholders got ripped off, while the powerful UAW union, which endorsed Obama, got special, preferential treatment and a big chunk of the automakers' stock.




We are stuck with an unemployment rate three points higher than the postwar average, and the percentage of working adult Americans is as low as it's been in almost thirty years. What's most troubling is that so much of this unemployment is long-term. Forty per cent of the unemployed have been without a job for six months or more-a much higher rate than in any recession since the Second World War-and the average length of unemployment is about forty weeks, a number that has changed very little since 2010. The economic recovery has now lasted nearly three years, but for millions of Americans it hasn't yet begun.

Unemployment doesn't hurt just the unemployed, though. It's bad for all of us. Jobless workers, having no income, aren't paying taxes, which adds to the budget deficit. More important, when a substantial portion of the workforce is sitting on its hands, the economy is going to grow more slowly than it could. After all, people doing something to create value, rather than nothing, is the fundamental driver of growth in any economy.

Most worrying, if high unemployment persists it could start to feed upon itself. Right now, unemployment is mainly the result of what economists call cyclical factors: during the recession, demand plummeted, and during the recovery consumer spending, government stimulus, and exports haven't been sufficient to make up the difference. But if high long-term unemployment continues there's a danger that, sooner or later, cyclical unemployment could become structural unemployment-that is, unemployment that won't go away once the good times return.

The longer people are unemployed, the harder it is for them to find a job (even after you control for skills, education, and so on). Being out of a job can erode people's confidence and their sense of possibility; and employers, often unfairly, tend to take long-term unemployment as a signal that something is wrong. A more insidious factor is that long-term unemployment can start to erode job skills, making people less employable. One extraordinary study of Swedish workers, for instance, found that there was a strong correlation between time out of work and declining skills: workers who had been out of work for a year saw their relative ability to do something as simple as process and use printed information drop by five percentile points.

The phenomenon in which a sizable chunk of the workforce gets stuck in place, and in effect becomes permanently unemployed, is known by economists as hysteresis in the job market. This is, arguably, what happened to many European countries in the nineteen-eighties-policymakers did little when joblessness soared, and their economies got stuck, leaving them with seemingly permanent unemployment rates of eight or nine per cent.

The good news is that there's not much evidence that hysteresis has set in here yet. The bad news is that we can ride our luck only for so long. If the ranks of America's long-term jobless don't start shrinking soon, it's less likely that they ever will, and we'll be looking at a new "natural" unemployment rate for the U.S. economy. This economy would be less productive as a whole (since there would be fewer workers), meaning that everyone would be less well off.

But the bigger obstacle may be psychological: the longer unemployment stays high, the likelier people are to get used to it. Five years ago, an unemployment rate of seven and a half per cent would have seemed outrageous, but it's possible that five years from now it will seem not so bad. A long-term crisis, after a certain point, no longer seems like a crisis. It seems like the way things are.

More here


Violence Against Women Act As a Political Talking Point

Left wingers need to preserve the talking point that the Right hates women. The Violence Against Women Act (WAWA), now pending reauthorization in the U.S. Senate, offers a great example of how liberals use political kabuki to keep the myth alive. The bill is fundamentally flawed and fully deserving of rejection. But senators who oppose it will be painted as women-haters.

As the Washington Post reports, "Democrats see the debate over the bill and potential amendments as an opening to continue accusing Republicans of `waging war' on women's rights. In recent weeks, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has used the issue - and the 11 Democratic women running in Senate races this year - to raise money from supporters."

Even some Republicans have fallen for the talking point. According to The New York Times, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) has urged Republicans to surrender on the issue.

No one disputes that violence against women is a problem and one that needs to be addressed by law enforcement. But crimes of violence-against any person-are meat-and-potato issues for state and local law enforcement.

That's because state and local governments-not the feds-are the traditional reservoir of police power in the U.S. Our Founders set up the Republic with that idea in mind.

James Madison wrote in Federalist 45 that the powers of the federal government are limited and the powers remaining in the states are numerous.

The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce; with which last the power of taxation will, for the most part, be connected. The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State.

According to the Cato Handbook for Congress, "the Constitution specifically authorizes federal enforcement of only three types of laws, all of which involve uniquely federal concerns." Those three types of criminal laws are laws to prevent counterfeiting, piracy and treason. Combating violent crime of any kind is the purview of the many states and other territories.

The Heritage Foundation's David Muhlhausen and Christina Villegas note that "despite the fact that each state has statutes that punish domestic violence, the federal government intervened in 1994 with the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)." Members of Congress and the President may feel better when they pass a law that goes after the perpetrators of violence against women, yet the federal government is not supposed to waste resources on issues more properly dealt with on the state and local level of governance.

The legislation pending before the Senate, S.1925, infringes on the rights of states and squanders federal resources. Moreover, it vastly expands the original VAWA and the power of the federal government in the domain of violence against women. And then, there's the politics. Liberals have loaded the bill with poison pill provisions meant to bait conservative politicians into a divisive fight.

Muhlhausen and Villegas note three major problems with the bill:

* It expands VAWA to men and prisoners, despite the lack of scientifically rigorous evaluations to determine the effectiveness of existing VAWA programs;

* It expands the already duplicative VAWA grant programs and

* Without precedent, it surrenders the rights of non-native Americans to racially exclusive tribal courts.

Another interesting twist: the pending legislation would offer VAWA protection and aid to victims of violence in same-sex couples. In other words, the Violence Against Women Act would protect a man harmed by another man, but only if they are in a sexual relationship.

This is classic special interest politics. Much like federal "Hate Crimes" laws, this legislation is designed to be used as political wedge issue. The aim is to make it appear as though liberals care about "women's issues," while conservatives couldn't care less. But all lawmakers are sworn to uphold the Constitution. What they should care about is upholding the will of our Founding Fathers-and pushing back against this ill conceived idea.




The Violence Against Women Act and the war on men: "Conceptually, VAWA is based on the false Duluth Power and Control Wheel model. VAWA falsely presumes that all Domestic Violence (DV) is perpetrated by evil patriarchal males against virtuously innocent female victims. This false gender ideology has no research support. By contrast, social science research, replicated across hundreds of studies, shows that: DV is initiated about equally by men and women; slightly more women than men are physically harmed by DV but men nonetheless still represent more than 40% of the physically harmed victims; the DV initiation rates for women, and especially young women, have been rising; and DV has nothing to do with an evil patriarchy because the DV rates for bisexuals, gays, and lesbians all are higher than for heterosexual couples."

California to vote on abolishing death penalty: "Voters in California are to be asked whether they want to abolish the state's death penalty law. The measure will appear on November's ballot after more than 500,000 people signed up to back the proposal. The measure would see death row inmates have their sentences commuted to life."

The week in regulation: "84 new final rules were published last week, up from 77 the previous week. That's the equivalent of a new regulation precisely every 2 hours -- 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. All in all, 1,114 final rules have been published in the Federal Register this year. If this keeps up, the total tally for 2012 will be 3,674 new rules"



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