Let’s start with Russ and Cesari :

Russ: Why did China become a centerpiece of industrial production? And as a result, improve their standard of living quite dramatically over the last 25 years? What do you think… how do you relate the concepts of your book to that story?
Cesar: So, the way that I think about the particular case of China, which in some sense has been a little bit puzzling, we can say, is that on the one hand, when you think about institutions and the role that institutions have on shaping the capacity of an economy, I think institutions can act better as a brake than as an accelerator.ii So, if you have a country that has a certain capacity, you can slow it down significantly or you can even destroy this capacity through institutions, but you cannot jumpstart the development of those capacities very easily by having good institutions.iii China is a country that historically has always been very productive, creative, has a rich history and has not been devoid of inventivenessiv or the generation of cumulative culture ; and it had a very rough transition in the 20th century because China didn’t go through a period of Renaissance like Europev did but moved more from a medieval society to a modern society over a period of only a hundred years, maybe. But even if you go back to the 1950 and 1960 when China was the poorest country in the world, they had a leap that had 80 million people, which is the size of the population of Germany, that was sophisticated enough to have been able to produce atomic bombs and to produce relatively sophisticated things  So, I think China is a country that in some ways has had knowledge for a long period of timevii ; it has a lot of capacity and as the institutions became more inclusive of the exportation of that knowledge and know-how in productive activities, you know, China was a country that was seen to grow. But other countries are not in the same position because they might have the bad institutions that, once they are removed, they are not liberating a population that has accumulated a relatively good capacity to make things. So, for instance, when we look at our data, when we look at economic complexity in this which is this formula that I created to estimate the computational capacity of a country,viii even if you go back to the 1960s, China was above average in the world, despite being the poorest country in the world. So, it’s telling you that the ability to make things was never that bad, and that’s why it’s not that surprising that mainland China has followed the footsteps of other Chinese-based economies, like Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore.

Russ: But it’s interesting, because so much of their productivity it seems is coming from the crystallized imagination of other people–a factory, an American corporation, an international corporation locating a factory in China versus somewhere else. Once they’ve put it in China, those workers are suddenly very productive. But they are the same workers. They didn’t literally get smarter. They don’t have any more knowledge ; they don’t have any more know-how. But they are augmented by those machines. So they–
Cesar: Yeah. But, like, if that were true — Ethiopia has 80 million people ; Nigeria a hundred million — we should be able to do that there as well. So, I think that thinking that in China maybe there was a little capacity –

Russ: Maybe we can.
Cesar: I don’t think so.

So ya, money China walks and bullshit Africa talks, regardless of what you may think or hope. But what else is new ? No, really, what’s so revelatory about this ? It’s been the same fucking story for two thousand years. That Africans aren’t worth feeding, much less whipping into shape,ix and that China is a coal-fired dragon in wolf’s clothingx is such a completely mundane pronouncement that it’s only scarcely worth the bother.

But in the statistically likely event that this seems either novel or even “offensive,” it just so happens that the reason you can’t recognise plain facts and verbalise them as such is quite specifically because you’re a) middle class, b) University “educated,”xi c) never read a piece of literature in your life that wasn’t assigned to you to read and “analyse,” which you “did” by cribbing Cliff Notes, d) fundamentally misattribute your own problems and those of the “less fortunate” to “systems” and “industries” rather than personal failings and internal weaknesses.

This is obviously much to your detriment in general and specifically creates a toxic social atmosphere wherever and whenever you flap your simplistic pie-hole to opine under pseudo-intellectual pretenses, invoking evermore layers of appeals to ignorance, authority and consensus one on top of the next. You don’t muddy the waters with this verbal sewage, of course, because the entirety of the structured “debates” in which you participate, based entirely on the whispered voices of The Economist,xii The New Yorker, etc. in addition to the cancerously asinine “funny news” that purports to provide you with all the perspective you could ever need while willfully building intellectual blinders that not only could block out the sun, but pointedly do, lest its golden rays of exposition reveal the depth of life wasted, and all that.

All of which is to say that your continued refusal to deny your mega-narcissistic pseudo-realities and puffed-up self-worth – along with the rest of your unjustifiably proud co-citizens in the “first, best, biggest democratic people’s republic of first world problems” – is ultimately a psychologically protective mechanismxiii that necessarily prevents a sensible comparison of the degrees and magnitudes of cultural and financial capital that’s been eroded and squandered at the alter of gender non-specificity and its attendant unfairnesses and inequalities. Someways down this necrotic, despondent and hopeless path is the “trigger warning,” a perverse notion semi-seriously entertained and even less efficaciously “addressed” with “cultural sensitivity trainings” in that woebegone excuse for a university system in that wanton excuse for a federated republic.

So that’s one type of blinder, as embodied by Russ, where anyone can be anything because reasons, where words are bad mkay, and where black lives feelings matter, but we all have own blinders.

I, for example, never cease to be amazed that increasingly left-leaning politicians are elected in this country and that societies hold together as well as they do for as long as they do even after Elvis Morgan and Carnegie have left the building.xiv That, and the depth of lessons encompassed by history that I still haven’t even scratched the surface of.xv And, realistically, probably a whole lot more besides.

Now the question remains : do you know where your blinders are ?

___ ___ ___

  1. Russ Roberts is the host of EconTalk and Cesar Hidalgo, his guest, is a PhD physicist who leads the Macro Connections group at The MIT Media Lab, which seems to revolve around data visualisation illiteracy as much as anything.
  2. Individuals create economies through trust, cooperation, and the will to power – that is, being men rather than boys. Conversely, “institutions” (ie. the unwashed and considerably more effeminate masses) adhere themselves onto this economy by any and all means necessary so as to equalimatise and accessiblise the productive output of “corrupt” (ie. effective) economies. So in this, the young Chilean is exactly correct.
  3. This is also correct, “jumpstarting” anything economic is a grotesque and infantilised notion of metastatic scammers like Jeffrey Sachs et al. It’s not that shortcuts don’t exist, they do, and they’re in fact necessary for success in a world of arbitrary rules, giving people the shortcuts is like giving people free room and board just for breathing. If you’re providing neither carrot nor stick, you’re merely satisfying your own guilt and probably papering over any undesirable consequences of this.
  4. It’s from China that we have crossbows, gun powder, rockets, water wheels, and far more besides than could possibly fit in one little footnote.
  5. Mostly because Europe “helped” China throughout the late Middle Ages in the same way that they’re currently “helping” Africa. Back then, Europe wanted China’s silver, gold, spices, and textiles. Today, Europe/His Majesty’s Colonies need a place to offload their over-subsidised corn and so spin it as altruism because that’s what’s in vogue.

    Relatedly, to quote MP from “The problem with altruism…” :

    Exactly like prescience, or the “real value” of money/items/labour, or impartial history, unbiased research, altruism is anything to everyone and in sum total nothing whatsoever. It’s a sort of beauty, or pornography, or “good moral values” or any other element of that soup.

    Yes, yes, I know, I know, “you know it when you see it”. Except you mostly see it in yourself – and if you see it in others you see it as a reflection of that and no more. A female circumcision artist is not altruistic, right ? Could never be altruistic, could they ? It’s just not an altruistic kinda thing. Not to you, anyway.

    Altruism lacks a workable definition. You know this, and lie about it, pretending that on the contrary, it has one, that you could give it one. You’ve not just made up an empty word, but know what you mean. Until someone challenges this quaint notion, at which point you have to change it, and hope they go away. If they don’t, you’ll cop out, by getting “angry” or “disinterested”, or by taking refuge in meaningless, contrived complexity. Anything that’s workable in the moment so the pretense can be maintained, for your own benefit. You wanna live in a world with altruism in it, damnit! And with computers that do what you mean not what you say, and with happiness!

    So you wear the costume of altruism like a bank robber wears a bandana with eye-holes over his face. But we can still hear your voice and we still know who you are.

  6. China can produce everything, it seems, but it can’t seem to design its ~own~ workstation CPU. It’s almost as if it’s too smart for that. What, and give the proles the power to individuate ? Ha ! And ha again !!
  7. To put this statement in its required perspective, China has been the world’s largest economy for entirety of the last two millennia – since Jesus freaking Christ! – with only the last two hundred years as the exception.
  8. For reference, Cesar Hidalgo sees an economy’s “computational capacity” as the ability of its internal networks to develop and produce technologically complex products. In this sense, Africa has very low computational capacity because it can only make slingshots, whereas Asia has diametrically more because it can make… everything.Indeed, China made your dishwasher and Africa made your Ebola.
  9. It’s not that slavery is bad per se and it therefore failed out of some cosmic moral imperative (y’know, like socialism actually does), it’s that it’s a fuckton of work to be master and after a few generations of “progressive” ideas, it just wasn’t worth the bother anymore. Luckily, and I do mean that you’ve been fortunate on a truly historic scale, your patch of dirt in the New World won a couple of big wars last century, established its currency as the world’s reserve, and has been exporting “democracy” (and inflation) to feed and clothe your lazy ass ever since.

    You might think yourself very fortunate as a result of this, but you have no idea just how fortunate nor how fleeting fortune can be. Hint : very.

  10. A Dragon in wolf’s clothing, for the record, is nowhere near as adorable as a Pantagruel in calf’s clothing.


    “Mommy, where’s my peripheral vision ?! Mommy !!”

  11. Oh, you went to Oxford, did you ? Were you aware of this little bit of its history ?

    mircea_popescu: What the fuck is this “Oxford” ? Derpy Brits keep trying to retcon their insignificant island into things. The thesis was whether Oxford was there in the original WoT. It was not. At the time the Paris university was starting the entire University thing, the King of France wouldn’t have traded a middling French province for all of England ; which also he didn’t. At the time, the English were exactly like the 1600’s Scots (see their Darien Gap adventure). So they copied the Bitcoin out of some idle kids and some peasants, which ended kloinking each other in the head. Three centuries later the Dutch conquered England, moved their fleet there and so yes Oxford eventually flourished. But the claim that it was “there in the 13th century” is spurious. As a ready shorthand, remember that in 1400 the entire material production of the entire archipelago was worth about the same as that of one neighbourhood in Milan. The whole fantasy is very CS-scientist level of naive. Read Villon’s testament – it should make it very plain what the point of University life was cca 1500 : THAT YOU COULD WALK IT. Everyone had one, and you could walk from Basel to Luxembourg. This was immense – at the time a peasant who wanted to move, provided he somehow managed, had to fucking drag his entire possessions, on a rug. No wheels even, because too fucking techy for a peasant. Whereas the vagabond could carry all his possessions in his head! THIS is why peasant chicks wistfully wisted for l’etudiant. Because it is fucking fascinating, you are seriously telling me you can ~just go~ ?!?!?! How do you do that from Oxford, you swim the Channel or something ? England wasn’t part of the party, not at that time.

    It’s ok, neither was I… But now we are ! 

  12. eg. You need an Ambien to sleep because you bought the trappings of power instead of the real thing.
  13. And an economical one at that ! As protective mechanisms are wont to be, by virtue of nature’s competitiveness. With but one life to live, we can’t put all of our energy into everything at once and expect even average outcomes – that’s just thermodynamics – so we focus in one or a few areas and hope that our neglect of the others areas doesn’t kill us, and if they threaten to, that “systems” will protect us in the event of black swans we knowingly or unknowingly allowed to manifest in our blindspots.
  14. Just as I’ll be surprised if Trump loses to Hillary.
  15. While I don’t have a specific teacher as such, choosing instead to follow in the footsteps of greatness when and where I can parse it out from amidst the veritable ocean of obscurant obstinacy, the autodidactic path still has the effect of making me worse as time goes on and I come to appreciate the depths of the pools I’m swimming in, which are primarily history and literature at the moment with a dash of computing, mathematics, and finance for good measure. And by “good measure” I mean Basic Bitcoin Competency Certification, which is really sine qua non for someone in my position.

5 thoughts on “Blinders.

  1. […] any different than what elementary school teachers do, is it ? (Which is to say, a lot of thankless work!) Now put that in your pipe and smoke it. […]

  2. […] ol’ pal Russ Roberts is who I have in mind here. I wanna choke the old man out and leave his utopian corpse in the ditch […]

  3. […] to be shun of the effects of easier, safer, more reliable, and more efficient robots. Call it a blind spot, but your average Joe would no more wage war against a forklift than his XBox. He simply […]

  4. […] flash : China has owned as much of the world as they’ve wanted for the better part of the past two millennia,xi and the only reason that you’re not speaking Mandarin or Cantonese today instead of […]

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