A Nobel Laureate’s Disappointing Policy Advice

We reported previously on the research by Nobel laureate Angus Deaton and his wife Anne Case showing that the death rate has been increasing for the white working class, the only socioeconomic group for which that is true. This finding, which some have dubbed The White Death, has become perhaps the most talked-about recent finding in all of social science.

Deaton and Case are to be commended for their statistical analysis, which appears to be solid. The White Death seems to be real. The question therefore becomes: What can be done about it?

The Washington Post’s Wonkblog wanted to know, so they published a very good interview with Deaton and Case. Their most fundamental argument is that the labor market for unskilled labor has deteriorated badly, and this development has had an adverse impact on the lives of millions of people. I agree with Deaton and Case on this basic point. But Deaton’s specific policy recommendations left me very disappointed.

First, Deaton apparently believes that we need to get more people into college.

Anne and I, I think, differ a little bit on how much education is a solution for this. But it’s certainly clear there are lots of people who are not getting BAs who are capable of it. So we need to do a much better jobs [sic] of getting these into school.

Well, as someone who has spent more than 20 years in the university classroom, I can state with confidence that the problem in higher education is more nearly the exact opposite–too many, not too few, people pursuing BAs. America must have, at Deaton says, at least a few people “not getting BAs who are capable of it.” But there are vastly more people in the opposite situation; pursuing BAs who are not really capable. Higher education is already massively subsidized and over-expanded. Rather than expanding further, higher education needs to contract. More people should consider learning a trade or going to coding school.

On education, Deaton’s wife is more sensible:

Case: But it’s also the case here that there are people who don’t want a four-year BA. We’ve been around this block many times: We do need to think about how we want to train people to enter the 21st century labor force.

Deaton also wants to expand the welfare state.

Deaton: We haven’t really talked about how none of this is happening in Europe…The obvious difference is that the safety net is enormously more generous in Europe. And lot of people in their 50s who lose their jobs can go on retirement. You get a doctor’s certificate and you get paid pretty much your salary until you die.

Wait, if you’re in your 50s and you lose your job for economic reasons, then you can just talk a doctor into saying you’re disabled and collect your check for life, and Deaton thinks that’s a good thing? Am I misreading this, or did Deaton endorse disability fraud?

Deaton and Case also seem to believe that Americans are too reluctant to accept welfare.

Case: The other thing that makes it harder in America rather than Western Europe is that there really is a difference for a large swath of the population in how they feel about receiving government transfers. We’ve all been trained up on the idea that we are individuals and we take care of our families and our neighbors take care of theirs, and that’s the way we like it. It’s very hard to give somebody something when they see it as handout that they don’t want.

What Case says was true about America in the 1950s and 1960s. In those days, there was a strong conscientious aversion, as well as considerable social stigma, to accepting welfare. But I don’t think that’s true today. Half of American households receive some kind of government check, and 30 percent receive a “means tested” benefit, i.e., welfare. When I was a kid, that latter figure was only 7 percent.

Moreover, unlike Deaton and Case, I don’t believe the primary reason why working-class people are dying in America but not Europe is Europe’s somewhat more generous welfare state. Another obvious and possibly more relevant difference is that Europeans do not drink sugary Cokes in 30-ounce servings, nor do they consume Little Debbie Snack Cakes by the box. Maybe before we put millions more on the disability rolls, we should first try to get them to cut back on carbs.

There’s one other policy recommendation that I’ve been pushing. We’re spending about three trillion dollars a year on health care. And our life expectancy is going down. Whereas all these other countries are spending way less, and their life expectancy is going up. For me the implication is if we implemented single payer, we’d get rid of a lot of these costs. Not without screaming and yelling, of course, and not without goring a lot of oxen.

But the crucial thing is recognizing the extent to which these rising health care costs are responsible, at least in part, for the stagnant wages for people without a college degrees. If they’ve got an employer and they’ve got health care, their wages are getting pushed down by the employer paying for that health care. People don’t even realize this. They think it’s for free.

No doubt, the cost of health care is a huge problem, and we need reform. But single-payer is not the way to do it. Those single-payer countries that report lower costs are leaving out a lot of hidden costs. In particular, they don’t count the costs to individuals of suffering due to rationing of health care. They also don’t count the negative impact on the economy of taxes needed to fund the system.

I’m not a left-wing nut pushing for single-payer! It’s not because I like socialized medicine. It’s just because I think this is eating capitalism alive, and if we want a healthy capitalist society in America, we’ve got to get rid of this monster.

Shorter Deaton: “I’m for single-payer, but just don’t call me a left-wing nut!”

So to summarize, Deaton wants to expand higher education, make welfare more generous, and pay for nearly everybody’s health care. This amounts to a massive expansion of government. Deaton intends to help the ‘little guy,’ but as Dennis Prager likes to say, the bigger the government, the smaller the individual.

And Deaton wants all this additional spending when the federal government is already exposed to a $200 trillion fiscal gap. Where will the money come from?

As I said, Deaton’s policy advice is very disappointing.

The End of Auto Theft

Technology is changing life so rapidly, that it’s hard to keep up with all the changes. In particular, I was not aware that technology had all but eliminated auto theft as the major societal problem that it had long been. Josh Barro, the son of the prominent Harvard economist Robert Barro, reports on this development in a piece from 2014.

Auto theft isn’t much of a problem anymore in New York City. In 1990, the city had 147,000 reported auto thefts, one for every 50 residents; last year, there were just 7,400, or one per 1,100. That’s a 96 percent drop in the rate of car theft.

That’s an amazing change. Those of us of a certain age can remember when auto theft was a big deal. Growing up in Massachusetts, the huge parking lot of a nearby shopping mall was notorious for car thefts. Everybody knew somebody who had a car stolen out of that lot. In 1971, my dad had his 1965 Chevy Impala stolen right out of his driveway. Auto theft was such a problem, that police departments across the country created special ‘task forces’ devoted solely to auto theft. But now, it seems that auto theft has all but disappeared. How did it happen?

The most important factor is a technological advance: engine immobilizer systems, adopted by manufacturers in the late 1990s and early 2000s. These make it essentially impossible to start a car without the ignition key, which contains a microchip uniquely programmed by the dealer to match the car.

Due to the inability to start the car without the keys, remaining car thefts are now increasingly confined to carjackings, stolen keys, or not returning rental cars.

I had a look at the FBI crime stats, and the national figures do not match the incredible 96 percent decline reported for New York City. The national decline, however, is still impressive. The rate of auto theft seems to have fallen nationally by about two-thirds from its peak in 1991. In particular, the theft rate started to fall rapidly about a decade ago, presumably due to the increasing prevalence of the ‘engine immobilizer’ technology. In just three years from 2006-2009, auto theft fell by one-third. Technology in some ways makes life better, in other ways, worse. Reducing auto theft is definitely one way that technology has made life better.

Anyway, if thieves really can’t start my car, I’m wondering if there’s any point to even locking it. So long as there are no valuables or a fancy stereo inside, is there any point to locking a car?

Debate: The End of Jobs

Here at Yet, Freedom!, we warned years ago that robots and artificial intelligence pose grave threats to human jobs. Now Alex Tabarrok, our old classmate, and Tyler Cowen, our old professor, have filmed a lively debate on the subject.

Alex says that labor saving technologies in the past did not cause a net reduction of jobs, because they opened opportunities for new areas of employment that did not previously exist.

The jobs of today were unheard of even ten years ago. Think about all of the people writing apps for those smart phones that we have. Those jobs were unheard of before. There will be new jobs in the future that you and I can’t even imagine today.

What Alex says has always been true. For more than 200 years, machinery and automation have generally been beneficial to labor by increasing wages and improving working conditions. Two hundred years ago, about 90 percent of people were farmers; now only 2 percent are. The disappearance of those farming jobs did not leave people with nothing to do, because new jobs were created that people centuries ago could never have imagined.

The problem is that, while Alex’s argument is correct about the past, it’s not necessarily true about the future. For the first time, things are different. Instead of merely replacing manual labor, machines now are threatening even highly intellectual jobs like being a lawyer or an anesthesiologist.

As Tyler points out, labor market data suggest that, this time, things are different. Labor force participation is falling, and wages are stagnant. Alex, however, dismisses this evidence.

Alex and Tyler posted this debate about six months ago, but a new study published just last month supports Tyler’s position. Daron Acemoglu of M.I.T. and Pascual Restrepo of Boston University found, somewhat to their surprise, that industrial robots depress both employment and wages.

The paper is all the more significant because the researchers, whose work is highly regarded in their field, had been more sanguine about the effect of technology on jobs. In a paper last year, they said it was likely that increased automation would create new, better jobs, so employment and wages would eventually return to their previous levels. Just as cranes replaced dockworkers but created related jobs for engineers and financiers, the theory goes, new technology has created new jobs for software developers and data analysts.

But that paper was a conceptual exercise. The new one uses real-world data — and suggests a more pessimistic future. The researchers said they were surprised to see very little employment increase in other occupations to offset the job losses in manufacturing. That increase could still happen, they said, but for now there are large numbers of people out of work, with no clear path forward — especially blue-collar men without college degrees.

The economists looked at the effect of robots on local economies and also more broadly. In an isolated area, each robot per thousand workers decreased employment by 6.2 workers and wages by 0.7 percent. But nationally, the effects were smaller… each robot per thousand workers decreased employment by three workers and wages by 0.25 percent.

So each robot eliminates three jobs. And keep in mind those are net jobs in the overall economy, not just jobs at the plant where the robot is introduced. The net effect on jobs takes into account those new jobs, as Alex points out, made possible by the robots. New jobs are needed to make and service the robots, but moreover, the robots create jobs by decreasing costs. By lowering costs, the robots leave people with more money to spend on other goods, which can expand employment in other industries. But even after accounting for new jobs, Acemoglu and Restrepo still found a net loss of three jobs for each robot.

Alex’s view of the effects of technology is the optimistic one, and I hope he is right. His argument has always been correct in the past. The latest evidence, however, suggests that the past might not serve as a useful guide to the future.

Regulation Hurts the Little Guy

During Judge Gorsuch’s recent confirmation hearing, Democrat Senators expressed concern that Gorsuch did not display sufficient sympathy for ‘the little guy.’ If these Senators are really concerned about the little guy, however, why do they continue to support and expand the massive regulatory state that keeps the little guy down?

The fact is that regulation typically hurts the little guy. Regulation does this by raising the prices of goods and services. Sometimes regulation raises prices by stifling competition. Classic examples include telephone service and airlines prior to the 1980s. Regulation also raises prices by banning cheap versions of a good, often in the name of safety, leaving the consumer no choice other than a more expensive version.

This phenomenon was on vivid display when I visited Mexico a couple of years ago. In Mexico, the most common car on the road is the Nissan Tsuru, which is almost identical to the “B13” Nissan Sentra that was sold in the United States from 1991 through 1994. At first, I thought all those Sentras on the road were remarkably well-preserved specimens from over 20 years ago. But in fact, the B13 Sentra is still produced in Mexico to this day. Until 2011, it was the best-selling car in Mexico.

Nearly all Taxis in Cancun are Nissan Tsurus (B13 Sentras).

The appeal of the B13 Sentra is that it is pretty reliable, but most of all it is cheap. The car sells brand new for only about $7,000 or $8,000. Of course the car is very basic; you roll down the window yourself, and the car does not offer the most modern safety features such as side air bags or anti-lock brakes. Allegedly for safety reasons, the car cannot therefore legally be sold in the United States. A B13 Sentra purchased in Mexico also cannot legally be imported or registered in the United States.

Many Americans might like to have the opportunity to buy a brand new car for less than $8,000. Those people would typically be of modest means. You know, the little guy. But the government says, no, the car is not sufficiently safe.

Of course, the B13 Sentra was safe enough in 1994, but the government has since moved the goal post. And some people in the U.S. today are still driving B13s from the 1990s that are grandfathered.

More to the point, shouldn’t a free-born citizen get to decide how much safety he or she wants to purchase? In other contexts, people are perfectly free, as they should be, to take risks. For instance, some people like to go snowmobiling. Others increase their risk by taking a job on an Alaskan crab boat. Still others take their lives in their hands by following the government’s dietary guidelines. What sense does it make that a free-born person can choose to climb Mount Everest, but cannot choose to drive a B13 Sentra?

And now government regulation has finally caught up with the B13 even in Mexico. Nissan will be forced to halt production in May.

[Y]ou will no longer be able to buy a 25-year-old Sentra brand new anymore. And it’s all because of the meddling government.

Mexico recently passed new safety regulations, and without airbags or anti-lock brakes, those requirements spell doom for the Nissan Tsuru.

So farewell, B13 Nissan Sentra. You had a good 25-year run, and we will always remember you fondly. When you get to where you’re going, say hello to the original Volkswagen Beetle for us!

The safety regulations don’t just violate principles of liberty, they hurt the poor economically by adding several thousand dollars to the price of a car. The case of the B13 Sentra is instructive because it reveals just how cheap cars might be if not for government regulation.

The phenomenon is a general one; regulation almost always has the effect of increasing prices not decreasing them. For instance, one of the main reasons why health insurance is so expensive is due to regulations that mandate what the insurance must cover. State-level regulations require health plans to cover things that people don’t want or don’t need, like psychiatric treatment or post-natal care. The government effectively bans people from purchasing a cheap bare-bones plan. Instead of letting citizens decide for themselves, the government forces people to buy more health insurance than they want.

Rich people can easily afford the higher prices imposed by regulations. But for the poor, the cumulative effect of higher prices significantly degrades their standard of living.

I once had the misfortune of having lunch with someone who was a big fan of regulation. She was telling me the whole time how great regulation is for ‘consumers.’ She voted for Ralph Nader. Oh, and not so incidentally, she was rich.

The White Working Class: Dying from Drugs–and Poor Nutrition

In 2015, life expectancy in the United States declined for the first time in over 20 years. The decline was driven mostly by the continued increase since the late 1990s in the death rate among working class, non-hispanic whites–the largest group in the country, comprising over 40 percent of the population. The disturbing increase in the death rate among this group was first revealed in a landmark study by Nobel laureate Angus Deaton and Anne Case in 2015. Now Deaton and Case are back with a new study that provides additional evidence.

Deaton and Case attribute the rising death rate among working class whites to ‘deaths of despair’–drugs, alcohol, and suicide. And as the cause of the despair, Deaton and Case focus on worsening social and economic conditions.

The authors suggest that the increases in deaths of despair are accompanied by a measurable deterioration in economic and social wellbeing, which has become more pronounced for each successive birth cohort. Marriage rates and labor force participation rates fall between successive birth cohorts, while reports of physical pain, and poor health and mental health rise.

Case and Deaton document an accumulation of pain, distress, and social dysfunction in the lives of working class whites that took hold as the blue-collar economic heyday of the early 1970s ended, and continued through the 2008 financial crisis and the subsequent slow recovery.

I suppose it’s natural for economists to focus on economic and social causes, like labor force participation and marriage rates. I’m sure these play a role in the despair of working class whites, but I don’t think they tell the whole story because ‘deaths of despair’ are only a fraction of the overall rise in deaths. In their Power Point presentation, Deaton and Case offer the following graph of the rate of ‘despair’ deaths for those aged 50-54.

As can be seen in the graph, ‘despair’ deaths–basically suicide and slow-motion suicide using drugs and alcohol–increased for both men and women by 70 or 80 per 100,000. All deaths, however, increased by a lot more than that.

For the same group of people, the death rate overall increased by about 200. Despair deaths therefore account for maybe 40 percent of the total increase. That’s a lot, but it raises the question, what accounts for the other 60 percent? My guess would be deaths from diabetes and other afflictions caused by obesity. Deaton and Case are skeptical of this explanation because among blacks, unlike whites, greater obesity has not increased the death rate. But other factors might be keeping down the black death rate despite high and rising obesity.

Deaton and Case are willing to concede (p.14) that the “contribution of obesity and diabetes to the mortality increases documented here clearly merits additional attention.” Then they proceed to pay it no additional attention, and focus throughout the rest of the paper on their social science hypotheses.

The words ‘food’, ‘diet’, ‘nutrition’ and related words appear nowhere in their 58-page paper, with the exception of a single reference on page 34 to “overeating.”

Deaton and Case are to be commended for calling attention to the deteriorating social and economic state of working-class whites. But the effect of very poor nutrition and eating habits also should not be ignored.

Seattle Environmentalists Demonstrate Fen’s Law

Fen’s Law states that leftists don’t really believe any of the crap they lecture the rest of us about.

It’s the proverbial tree that fell in the forest without making a sound, or perhaps the raw sewage that spewed into Puget Sound without making a splash.

Since the region’s largest wastewater-treatment plant was disabled in a catastrophic flood last month, the Metropolitan King County Council and Regional Water Quality Committee between them have held multiple public hearings on the disaster.
Not a single person from an environmental group or the public turned out to testify or demand action on the crippled West Point Treatment Plant, or even take notice of one of the largest local public infrastructure failures in decades.
Tons of solids are pouring into Puget Sound every day because the plant is too broken to treat wastewater properly. Yet council members say they’ve barely heard a peep from environmental groups.

The Seattle area is no slacker for environmental activism; hundreds of people have turned out of late in the streets to demand the city change banks to punish Wells Fargo for lending money to help build the Dakota Access Pipeline. And Elliott Bay swarmed with “kayaktivists” in 2015 to protest drilling in the Arctic when Shell staged equipment at the Port of Seattle docks.

“It’s odd, I have to say, I haven’t heard from any of them, not at all,” said King County Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles, whose district includes the plant. “It is bizarre.”

So they’ll take to the streets to protest oil drilling or a pipeline thousands of miles away, but won’t protest sewage right in their own backyard. It’s almost as if environmentalism is not really about protecting the environment, but about advancing some ulterior agenda. And what might that agenda be? Well, stopping drilling and pipelines both have the effect of impeding U.S. oil production.

And who benefits from less U.S. oil production? Well, for one, there’s Russia. The last couple of years, the Russian government has had to make steep budget cuts as a result of relatively low oil prices, caused largely by expanded U.S. oil production. The Russians would love to curtail U.S. production.

Right now, the more febrile domains of the internet are burning up with conspiracy theories regarding Russian influence over the 2016 election. While we’re trying to get to the bottom of that, maybe we should also be investigating potential Russian funding of U.S. environmental groups. After all, we wouldn’t want to let the Russians corrupt our precious environmental organizations, amirite?

Earth Hour: *Yawn*

I’m running a little late with this, but this past weekend featured the 11th annual Earth Hour, when people all over the world are supposed to demonstrate how committed they are to stopping ‘climate change’ by turning off their electric lights for one hour.

Earth Hour is a kind of protest, of course, and a protest is not an argument, but just a way for people to show how strongly they feel about something. As a signal of feeling, however, Earth Hour seems laughingly pathetic, since the cost of participating is so meager. I mean, if you really believe that life on Earth as we know it is in jeopardy, shouldn’t you be willing to do more than just turn off your lights for one hour per year?

I’d be a lot more impressed by these folks if instead of an hour they lived without electricity for a year or even a month. Go into the woods and make a hut out of mud and pine needles and I’ll be duly impressed. I’ll still disagree with you, but I’ll at least acknowledge the strength and authenticity of your commitment to your false beliefs.

I mean, St. Francis of Assisi grew up well-to-do, but when he had his religious epiphany, he gave away literally all of his worldly possessions including his clothes, so that he was going around town completely naked. The local bishop had to tell him that he couldn’t go naked and gave him some clothes. Now, I don’t worship at the altar of St. Francis, but he certainly demonstrated his commitment.

But turning off lights for an hour is just the cheapest of cheap virtue signalling, like posting to social media about Cecil the Lion or Kony 2012.

Peace out.

The University as Holiday Resort: Yale Edition

The new video by We the Internet does a great job explaining the reasons for the current parlous state of free speech and inquiry at American universities. The focus is on Yale University, but Yale’s pathologies apply generally to academia as a whole.

Silence U Part 2: What Has Yale Become?

At pjmedia.com, Richard Fernandez reviews the video and concludes that

Yale is becoming a kind of jail which hands out professional credentials to those hardy enough to serve out their term. Until then its inmates should be careful not to make waves. The wardens in Miltmore’s story are college administrators who’ve created a kind of politically correct kingdom where they — not the professors — are the rulers; where conformity not inquiry, is the most highly valued virtue.

But the university seems like a jail only to libertarian or conservative heretics who reject the ruling-class orthodoxy. To non-heretics the university offers a pleasant experience filled with parties and a wide range of recreational activities. Instead of a jail, the modern university more closely resembles an extended four-year religious summer camp, where instruction in the ruling-class catechism is combined with social and outdoor activities, a kind of holiday resort or sanatorium for the next generation of the ruling class. The appropriately descriptive term used in the video is “the gilded camp.”

As the video points out, the reason the university has become a kind of resort is “the customer service mentality.” As a result, a huge bureaucracy–“the administrative squid monster”–has been installed in order to “keep the fun going.” As a former Yale professor says, “It’s not about what we expect from you [the student], it’s about what we can do for you.”

The squid monster is primarily interested in feeding itself and is “not that committed to the search for truth.” Instead of a place of open inquiry, therefore, we get the religious summer camp, where lots of fun is available for everyone who does not question orthodoxy, but those who dare to rock the boat shall be persecuted as heretics.

The video tellingly contrasts the Yale of today with the Yale of 1974 which produced the famous Woodward Report in defense of free speech. A primary goal of today’s campus agitators is to ban ‘hate speech,’ but more than forty years ago the Woodward Report explicitly considered that argument and rejected it.

Shock, hurt, and anger are not consequences to be weighed lightly. No member of the community with a decent respect for others should use, or encourage others to use, slurs and epithets intended to discredit another’s race, ethnic group, religion, or sex. It may sometimes be necessary in a university for civility and mutual respect to be superseded by the need to guarantee free expression. The values superseded are nevertheless important, and every member of the university community should consider them in exercising the fundamental right to free expression.

We have considered the opposing argument that behavior which violates these social and ethical considerations should be made subject to formal sanctions, and the argument that such behavior entitles others to prevent speech they might regard as offensive. Our conviction that the central purpose of the university is to foster the free access of knowledge compels us to reject both of these arguments. They assert a right to prevent free expression. They rest upon the assumption that speech can be suppressed by anyone who deems it false or offensive. They deny what Justice Holmes termed ”freedom for the thought that we hate.” They make the majority, or any willful minority, the arbiters of truth for all. If expression may be prevented, censored or punished, because of its content or because of the motives attributed to those who promote it, then it is no longer free. It will be subordinated to other values that we believe to be of lower priority in a university.

As the video documents, however, today’s Yale has effectively dropped its defense of speech. When some professors tried to defend free expression, they came under withering assault from students and some faculty, and the administration did not defend them.

Rather than the Woodward Report, today’s Yale is more accurately summarized by the exclamations of ‘screeching girl.’

It is not about creating an intellectual space! It is not! Do you understand that? It’s about creating a home here!

OK! Now that’s settled, we can get back to roasting heretics marshmallows over the (gilded) campfire.

Boys Raised by Single Parent Do Worse than Girls

A fascinating new study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research finds that boys from ‘disadvantaged’ families do worse than girls. The disadvantaged families are predominantly headed by a single female parent.

We find that, relative to their sisters, boys born to disadvantaged families have higher rates of disciplinary problems, lower achievement scores, and fewer high-school completions.

[E]mployment rates of young women are nearly invariant to family marital status, while the employment rates of young adult men from non-married families are eight to ten percentage points below those from married families at all income levels.

In other words, all else equal, non-married status matters only for boys, not for girls. The authors, as well as most commenters on the study, conclude that the sex gap in success must be environmental and not genetic. Apparently, growing up without a father at home is somehow particularly damaging for boys, but not for girls, perhaps because mothers devote relatively more attention to their daughters and sympathize more with the needs of their daughters. In any event, nobody is really quite sure of the reasons, but one way or another, fathers are more important to raising boys than girls. This result supports the longstanding assertion of social conservatives that boys need fathers.

Observers reject a genetic argument in favor of environment, I suspect, because of the study’s focus on siblings. The boys and girls in the study should not differ much genetically because the siblings share at least one, and often two, parents.

An awful lot of research, however, has shown that life outcomes have a strong genetic basis. I’m not convinced, therefore, that the results of the study in question cannot have a genetic explanation.

In particular, life success has been shown to correlate strongly with I.Q. and the personality trait of ‘conscientiousness,’ which is heritable. Conscientiousness is the only one of the Big Five personality traits that predicts career success.

[A]fter general mental ability is taken into account, the other four of the Big Five personality traits do not aid in predicting career success.

And here’s a definition of conscientiousness.

[Conscientious people] exhibit a tendency to show self-discipline, act dutifully, and aim for achievement; they display planned rather than spontaneous behavior; and they are generally organized and dependable.

Men lacking in conscientiousness seem exactly the sort of fathers unable to form stable families and to fulfill fatherly duties. Since they are not dutiful or dependable, the mothers cannot rely on them, and end up heading the household themselves.

Now, I am not a geneticist, but I see no reason why fathers could not pass on their lack of conscientiousness to their sons relatively more than their daughters. Maybe I’m mistaken, but there could be a set of genes that undermine male conscientiousness, but have a relatively muted effect in females. If in terms of heritable conscientiousness, if boys align more with their fathers and girls with their mothers, then genetics can explain the result that boys from broken homes do worse than girls.

If so, then social conservatives might not be correct about the environmental role of fathers. But the age-old wisdom that women should not have kids with irresponsible men would still hold true.

Music in Our Culture: How Much Has Been Lost

I liked the following youtube comment by “TLM”. It refers to a clip of Mario Lanza’s performance of “vesti la giubba”, from the 1959 film For the First Time.

Mario Lanza Vesti La Giubba 1958 Widescreen

Yeah, it’s easy to go through life in contemporary America and never even find out that opera and classical music exist. The stuff hardly gets any exposure, except as the occasional background music on a TV commercial. That’s a shame, because even though opera and classical are not for everyone, in fact probably not for most people, a lot more people might nonetheless appreciate this music if only they got more exposure to it.

At my gym the speakers constantly blare hip-hop and rap, even though my gym’s clientele does not generally fit the typical demographic for those genres. The other day, one of the members talked an employee into shutting the music off, and the silence was welcomed by the rest of us who were working out. Another member commented that he was sick of the fact that, at high school basketball games, the music is always that same sort of “garbage.”

It wasn’t always like this in America. During the 1950s, America boasted a thriving middle-brow culture. In 1955, attendance at classical music concerts exceeded attendance at major league baseball games. In the early ’60s, Leonard Bernstein’s classical concerts were broadcast on national network television, sometimes during prime time. Prime time Shostakovich is unimaginable today. Young people have no idea how much has been lost. Sad.

But getting back to Mario Lanza, he had an amazing voice, and is in fact my favorite tenor. Which is surprising, because he was just a movie singer and not a real professional opera singer, kind of like The Monkees weren’t a real group, but just played one on TV. Lanza’s breakthrough movie was The Great Caruso (1951) in which he played the legendary tenor. But Lanza, the actor playing Caruso, was actually a better singer than the legend himself, if you can believe it.

Unfortunately, Lanza had a problem with overeating, and died prematurely at just 38 years of age.