New York: The City That Never Cares

I'm visiting relatives in the USA and decided to make a stop in New York City, since that's usually a fun thing to do. After living in Europe for so long, seeing any New York airport is a reminder of just how shitty they are. America's public infrastructure really is crumbling. Three separate long lines at customs and passport control, which snaked far beyond the barriers and ended up haphazardly curling back and forth into the corners of the rooms. All the pens had been ripped away from their holders, so you couldn't use the tables to fill out the customs forms. 

No personnel to tell you where to line up. When you did encounter someone official, they usually spoke worse English than the foreign visitors. The luggage pickup displays directed us to the wrong carousel, where hundreds of people waited patiently as their luggage was delivered elsewhere. Since nobody was there to pick it up, the workers just stacked it into random piles. Most of the ceiling tiles were stained, some were missing.

The line for the cab was also 100 people long, snaking along a narrow concrete median with traffic on both sides. Since the area to line up for the cab was the same area for passenger pickup, you couldn't tell if people were in line for the cab or waiting for a car to pick them up. Tense confrontations resulted. Touts patrolled the cab line offering jacked-up rides to the inner city; nobody did anything about them. There was a strong stench of urine wafting along the line. A couple in front me of from Australia were chatting among themselves, incredulous that this malodorous, chaotic dump of an airport was the gateway to one of the world's great cities.

Finally got a cab after a 40-minute wait. The cab was falling apart, couldn't do over 50 miles per hour, and the driver had night vision problems which led him to constantly bleed into other drivers' lanes. He had no idea where the destination was and no GPS system. The Van Wyck Expressway has to be one of the ugliest roads I've ever seen. On each side is a pile of garbage and dead leaves, and the only barrier between it and the modest Queens neighborhoods on either side is a rusty chain-link fence. All the houses seemed to have burglar bars on all windows and doors.

The overall impression you get landing in New York is worse than in most developing countries I've been to. I am already looking forward to returning to Europe, where countries still at least try to make sure their public amenities are interesting, pleasant places to be.


Germans Ignore Dying Man in Bank Despite Law Telling them to Help

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The police in Essen reported (g) on a case in which an 82-year-old man collapsed to the floor of a branch bank in Essen, Germany in early October. At least four people were seen on security cam footage simply walking over his body without offering help or calling an ambulance. The man was eventually taken to a hospital, where he later died. The police are now investigating these persons for failure to render assistance, which is a crime under German law. Section 323c of the Penal Code:

Whosoever does not render assistance during accidents or a common danger or emergency although it is necessary and can be expected of him under the circumstances, particularly if it is possible without substantial danger to himself and without violation of other important duties shall be liable to imprisonment not exceeding one year or a fine.

In common-law countries such as the United States, the law imposes no duty to rescue strangers. As long as you didn't cause the emergency and the bear no special duty to the victim (as a guest or relative, etc.), the law will not punish you for ignoring him. There are a number of justifications for this doctrine, both theoretical (you can't be held responsible for injuries you didn't cause), and moral (the state should trust its citizens to do the right thing uncoerced).

This is one of the most obvious differences between common-law systems and civil-law systems such as the ones in most European countries. When I was teaching, many of my German students professed to find the common-law doctrine shocking or cold-hearted. It's not hard to detect the attitude behind this: the still, small voice in every German's head which whispers: "Despite the recent unpleasantness, Germany is a more decent, moral, caring and sensitive society than all others in the world, except maybe Sweden, but at any rate definitely more caring and 'social' than the selfish, dog-eat-dog United States."

Am deutschen Wesen...*

The students assumed that the existence of a law requiring help made Germany a more caring place, and that it affected Germans' behavior toward one another. This is another typical German attitude -- the notion that once a law has been passed to address a problem, the problem no longer exists.

Alas, I had to shatter their precious smugness idealism.

Studies show that 'duty to rescue' laws have no effect on whether people rescue their fellow humans in need. In the United States, where the law says you don't have to try to rescue people, a huge majority does exactly that, often risking their own lives:

As Table 3 reflects, there are approximately 1003 non-risky rescues (cell 2) and 263 risky rescues (cell 4) per year in the United States. Thus, verifiable rescues outnumber non-rescues by almost 800:1. If one loosens the standard for rescue only slightly, to encompass instances of rescue that were reported in a newspaper but did not pass initial screening by the Carnegie Hero Trust Commission, the ratio increases to approximately 1400:1.

Approximately 100 Americans lose their lives every year as a result of attempting to rescue someone else. Thus, even in the absence of a duty to rescue, deaths among rescuers outnumber deaths attributable to non-rescue by approximately 60:1 every year. Stated differently, there are six times as many rescuer deaths every year as there are deaths attributable to non-rescue in the past ten years combined.

Finally, injury is common among rescuers. Aggregate figures are unavailable, since most of the data sources did not separately track injury, but in those that did and as detailed below, a substantial percentage of risky-rescuers and a significant number of non-risky rescuers were injured – sometimes quite severely.

This isn't to say that Germans are more cold-hearted than Americans. Why, just five days ago, a staff member on a German Rhine cruise ship jumped into the cold water to rescue a woman who had fallen off a bridge into the Rhine (g).

The point is first, that law on the books, as usual, has little to do with what happens in the real world. Second, that laws drafted by tiny commissions staffed by elites (such as law professors) and then passed word-for-word by the national legislature do not necessarily reflect "the values of our civilization".

Points worth remembering!

Continue reading "Germans Ignore Dying Man in Bank Despite Law Telling them to Help" »


America: Politically Correct, and Politically Free

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Pew research looks at the level of support for free speech across the globe and finds that it's highest (according to their measure) in the U.S.:

Enshrined in the Bill of Rights, free expression is a bedrock American principle, and Americans tend to express stronger support for free expression than many others around the world. A 38-nation Pew Research Center survey conducted in 2015 found that Americans were among the most supportive of free speech, freedom of the press and the right to use the internet without government censorship.

Moreover, Americans are much more tolerant of offensive speech than people in other nations. For instance, 77% in the U.S. support the right of others to make statements that are offensive to their own religious beliefs, the highest percentage among the nations in the study. Fully 67% think people should be allowed to make public statements that are offensive to minority groups, again the highest percentage in the poll. And the U.S. was one of only three nations where at least half endorse the right to sexually explicit speech. Americans don’t necessarily like offensive speech more than others, but they are much less inclined to outlaw it.

To get a summary measure of support for free expression around the world, we built an index based on five survey questions about free speech and three about free media. Using this measure, Americans emerge as the biggest supporters of free expression among the 38 nations studied. And unlike so many other issues in the U.S., wide open, free-ranging public debate has an appeal across party lines. There are relatively few differences between Democrats, Republicans and independents when it comes to free expression.

However, there are some important generational differences on this issue. For instance, 40% of U.S. Millennials think the government should be able to prevent people from making statements that are offensive to minority groups, compared with 27% of those in Generation X, 24% of Baby Boomers, and just 12% of Silent Generation Americans. Nonwhite respondents (38%) are also more likely to hold this view than whites (23%).

Apart from debates over whether offensive language should be legal, most Americans believe people are just too easily offended nowadays. In a 2016 Pew Research Center survey, 59% agreed with the statement “Too many people are easily offended these days over the language that others use,” while only 39% said “people need to be more careful about the language they use to avoid offending people with different backgrounds.”

Yet another stereotype of American society down the drain. Germans consider America to be the homeland of political correctness, the dastardly censorship of controversial views which is spreading like a virus into German society. This impression, like so many others, is created by selective German news coverage. Most Germans still unthinkingly rely on the mainstream media to decide what it's important to know about the United States.

Which they do, according to their own narrow, nearly-identical criteria, determined by the tastes and preferences of educated urban haute-bourgeois Germans. And they have decided, for reasons which would be interesting to know, that Americans are afflicted by the worst case of political correctness on the globe. Journos pounce on every story showing the excesses of politically-correct scolding in the United States. 

Yet what Pew shows us is that Americans likely have the highest tolerance for offensive speech of anyone in the world.

The problem here is one of definition. Political correctness as a tendency of private persons in civil society to denounce someone's remarks, or Halloween costume, or state flag as offensive. There is a lot of that sort of thing in the United States. And there is certainly some chilling effect on college campuses, which are full of people whose job is essentially to have opinions.

Yet in another way, America is much more free than all other nations on earth. The Constitution and American culture prevent the government from punishing offensive speech to a greater degree than anywhere else. In America, the government cannot pre-emptively stop a newspaper from printing offensive speech, or stolen secret documents. Publications generally cannot be seized after they're printed. Ordinary citizens may advocate violence, deny the Holocaust, use ethnic slurs, and espouse racism without fear of government intervention. (As long as these are words alone -- you can still be punished for actions such as workplace discrimination or bias-motivated hate crimes). You can neither be punished by the government nor sued for money by a private citizen for an insult, not matter how vicious or crude it is. You can protest at the funeral of a soldier with signs which insult "fags" and say "Thank God for Dead Soldiers".

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In almost all other countries on earth, any one of these actions or statements could expose you to criminal prosecution by the government or an order to compensate victims with money damages in civil court. Not in the U.S. And, as the Pew survey shows, the majority of Americans approve of this state of affairs. Even millennials, the most PC group of them all, are not clamoring for restrictions on free speech.

So in the United States, if you say something quite rude and non-PC, you may be castigated on Twitter and denounced by your audience.

If you say the same thing in many other countries, you could be hit with a government-imposed fine or civil damages verdict. Perhaps even a prison sentence.

The amount of politically-correct scolding in a country has no relation to the level of genuine freedom of expression. After all, politically-correct scolding is freedom of expression. The U.S. is a hotbed both of political correctness and of free speech.


There's More Routine Political Violence In Germany than in the USA

A Republican Party office in Orange County, North Carolina, was firebombed, and the attackers sprayed graffiti calling on 'Nazi Republicans' to leave. This was considered so unusual and ominous in the USA that it made national headlines. And it comes during what is unquestionably the most divisive and emotional Presidential campaign in modern history. Hillary Clinton responded:

Yet political violence of this sort of thing happens every single day in Germany. Members and employees of the right-wing AfD have been shot at (g), beaten (g), and targeted with demonstrations blockading the entrance to their own homes "mourning" their deaths (g). The AfD has created a central registry (g) of criminal attacks against its members and employees. The car owned by the chairwoman of the AfD was destroyed in an arson attack (g). Both right-wing (g, in Dresden) and left-wing (g, in Berlin) hooligans rampage through the center of large German cities, attacking people and things they associate with their political enemies, causing millions of Euros in damage. The offices of the left-wing Die Linke party have been attacked hundreds of times (g). Attacks on police officers in Germany are rising steadily (g) and becoming a problem for recruitment (g).

Of course, there have been riots, looting, and fatal shootings in the US related to protests against police violence. Once again, the disastrous consequences of the large number of guns circulating in the US can be seen. But aside from these spectacular incidents, the level of routine politically-motivated property damage and physical attacks is probably higher in Germany than in the United States. Just as the overall level of violent crime in Germany is higher than in the US.

Germany is not on the brink of collapse, and serious injury or death from these events is extremely rare. But the notion that Germany is an Arcadia of reasoned discourse while the US is a Wild West nightmare of flying bullets -- an assumption that underpins much German reporting -- is false.

UPDATE -- A Massachusetts Democrat started a Gofundme page to repair the burned Republican field office and raised $13,000 from fellow Democrats within hours.


Royal Intermarriage Prevented Wars

This fascinating paper (pdf) by Seth G. Benzell and Kevin Cooke argues that intermarriage among European royal houses played a significant role in decreases in the number of wars in early modern Europe:

Specifically, we show exogenous increases in kinship network distance lead to an increased likelihood of war. While our framework predicts we should also see a decreased likelihood of fighting as allies, evidence on this is inconclusive. We conclude that the rise in kinship connections is an important factor in the well-known long-run decrease in the frequency of war.

We tentatively estimate that increased kinship ties explain 30 percent of the decrease in European warfare. Suppose, conservatively, that the presence of a kinship connection reduces the chance of war between a pair of states by .67 percent. This number is a lower bound on the effect of disconnecting onpath deaths in the latter part of our sample. Relative to pre-1600, the share of monarchs connected after 1800 increased by 53 percentage points. Preventing all these new ties from being formed would therefore be expected to increase the share of dyads at war after 1800 from 1.17% to 1.53%. This is approximately 30 percent of the decrease in war over the same period.

Our data provides a rich environment to study the influence of interpersonal relationships on long-run macroeconomic, political and institutional outcomes. In this paper, we have focused on the relationship between kinship and conflict. However, the same data and network tools might well be applied to more traditional economic questions. We think future work investigating the long-run implications of kinship networks for trade, growth, and development will be fruitful. Another interesting path for future study is explicitly modeling the network formation in this environment. Strategic marriages played a major role in international relations during our period of interest. Building a structural model of strategic marriage and fertility decisions is also an interesting direction for future research.

We New Worlders, almost all of whom grew up in republics, always find odd to think that the mere fact that Prince X married (or refused) Princess Y would change the lives of millions of people. But it did!


Fun with Pattern Recognition: Shots Fired by German Police, 2007-2015

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From reddit's Data is Beautiful. Gee, I wonder what caused the big jump in 2015?

The first 2 comments:

[–]TheGogglesDoNothing -- I suspect that this graph will correlate pretty well to a graph of "shootings by police in Chicago from 9/1-9/7".

 

[–]foll-trood -- that's not how you format hours and minutes


Bleg: Has Angela Merkel Ever Criticized the German Justice System?

At a conference in Vienna, I made a statement that might well turn out to be bullshit, as is often the case with me. What I said was:

"In all her years as Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel has never made a public statement in which she has (1) called for reform of the German criminal justice system or (2) criticized its unfair treatment of ethnic minorities."

I certainly can't remember her ever doing such a thing. In fact, I can't remember her ever saying anything at all about the German criminal justice system, except for platitudes congratulating judges and cops for their selfless service, etc.

The point was to contrast her with Obama, who has made countless such statements. And to make the point, which I do over and over on this blog: Europeans who obsess on the flaws, real or imagined, of the U.S. criminal justice system generally have no idea how their own system works, and blissfully presume it works just fine. 


Europe, the USA, and the Death Penalty: 13 Slides to Collect and Trade with your Friends

I'm off to Vienna in a few days to talk about the death penalty. Specifically, why Europe got rid of it and why the USA still (just barely) has it. Here are the slides I'm working on right now, in case anyone's interested. If the hive mind spots any errors or has any suggestions, comments are eagerly welcome!

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Welcome, Sturdy, Sober, Hard-Working Danes! (Other Danes Need Not Apply)

Viking-demo1

Tyler Cowen reviews a new book calling into question Scandinavian welfare states as a model for the world, and working out its implications for immigration policy:

Nima Sanandaji, a Swedish policy analyst and president of European Centre for Entrepreneurship and Policy Reform, has recently published a book called "Debunking Utopia: Exposing the Myth of Nordic Socialism." And while the title may be overstated, his best facts and figures are persuasive. 

For instance, Danish-Americans have a measured living standard about 55 percent higher than the Danes in Denmark. Swedish-Americans have a living standard 53 percent higher than the Swedes, and Finnish-Americans have a living standard 59 percent higher than those back in Finland. Only for Norway is the gap a small one, because of the extreme oil wealth of Norway, but even there the living standard of American Norwegians measures as 3 percent higher than in Norway. And that comparison is based on numbers from 2013, when the price of oil was higher, so probably that gap has widened.

Of the Nordic groups, Danish-Americans have the highest per capita income, clocking in at $70,925. That compares to an U.S. per capita income of $52,592, again the numbers being from 2013. Sanandaji also notes that Nordic-Americans have lower poverty rates and about half the unemployment rate of their relatives across the Atlantic.

It is difficult, after seeing those figures, to conclude that the U.S. ought to be copying the policies of the Nordic nations wholesale. It is instead more plausible to think that Americans might learn something from the cultural practices of Nordic-Americans. Sanandaji says those norms include hard work, honesty, a strong civil society and an ethic of cooperation and volunteerism....
 
For one thing, Nordic immigrants to the United States probably came from the better trained, more literate and more ambitious segments of the population. For instance, data on Danish migrants from 1868 to 1900 show that laborers were underrepresented in the group and artisans and craftsmen were overrepresented by a factor of two. It is perhaps no wonder that the ethnic Danes in the U.S. are relatively high earners, because they are the results of a process of positive selection.  And there is a growing literature showing that the cultural traits of migrants can persist to some degree for generations in their new countries....

Most of all we should consider the option of greater freedom of choice for residence decisions. For all the anti-immigrant sentiment that is circulating at the moment, would it hurt the U.S. to have fully open borders with Denmark? It would boost American gross domestic product and probably also improve American education. History teaches that serious assimilation problems would be unlikely, especially since many Danes already speak English. 

Open borders wouldn't attract Danes who want to live off welfare because the benefits are so generous at home.

How's this for a simple rule: Open borders for the residents of any democratic country with more generous transfer payments than Uncle Sam's.

A few observations: Simple one-to-one comparisons of Danish to American living standards are not very meaningful, because even if Americans make more money, they have higher living expenses. They have to pay for (or do without) many things a Scandinavian welfare state provides for free or subsidized. How exactly do you calculate the effect on living standards of guaranteed paid parental leave, health insurance, pre-school education, and public transportation so effective that nobody has to buy a car?

That aside, though, notice the argument Cowen is making. Cowen is a professor of economics, a centrist with libertarian tendencies, and an interesting blogger. Being libertarian, he tends to be in favor of immigration in general. Economists tend to like many kinds of immigration, because it fosters economic growth and comparative advantage and those sorts of things.

But since Cowen is a pragmatic American, he accepts two arguments as so obvious as to need no elaboration. First, that immigration should favor the talented and intelligent. The Danes America got are doing well in America because they come from a successful culture, and because they were some of the most enterprising people in that culture. Second, he notes that immigration policy should obviously not attract people "who want to live off welfare". (Also, note that he uses the word "selection" in reference to getting better Danes. The German version of this word, Selektion, is thermonuclear-level verboten in Germany because it was the term used for the process of determining which new arrivals at Nazi death camps would be selected for immediate death, and which would be put to work).

Both of these arguments will immediately be disputed in European Urban Haute Bourgeois circles. Trust me, I know from personal experience. European urban elites who have liberal-arts educations are educated in hothouses of deontological thinking, in which experiences and policies should be evaluated according to abstract universal principles of humanism. In this view, selecting immigrants is denounced as elitist, as ignoring the "sacred principle" of human equality, as treating some persons as more inherently valuable than others, and as implicitly asserting the supposed "superiority" of Western culture.

Discouraging welfare tourism is denounced for similar reasons. Also, you often encounter the notion that Europeans have no "right" to live in comparative safety and prosperity, and therefore have no legitimate objection to foreigners coming to their country and living off state assistance their entire lives. What are you trying to say, that Joseph from Cameroon somehow has less right to live off German welfare than Josef from Dibbersen? Both are human beings, both have the same entitlement to inviolable human dignity, and therefore both must be treated equally by the welfare state. You didn't choose which country you were born in, so how is it fair for you to reap the incalculable privileges of being born in a place like Germany as opposed to, say, Zimbabwe?

To which the average Brit or American (but not Peter Singer) responds: What's all this bosh? These arguments may have abstract appeal in a seminar room, but as guides for formulating policy in a Western democracy, they're useless, not even wrong. Principles are all well and good, but they're hardly a guide to practical policy-making. Favoring skilled immigrants is legal, proper, does not violate any mutual obligations we may owe to others, and benefits us. Same with making sure foreign welfare cases don't burden our system, which is designed for our people. And no, we think the notion that making sure our welfare system helps our people is not only proper, but that it's the only remotely sane approach. And we feel no need to justify or explain these views. As Disraeli said, "Never complain, never explain."

This, gentle readers, is one of the most fascinating and enduring differences between the mindset of the educated elites of the English-speaking world and those of continental Europe.


The U.S. Is Much Less Xenophobic Than Europe

Foreigner poll

Here's another cultural difference to add to the others.

If you believe it's a good thing for a country to have a generally positive attitude toward diversity, then you must acknowledge that the USA is morally superior to any European country. European elites overwhelmingly think diversity is a good thing, which makes the results of this survey problematic to them. How can a country which embodies so many things they disapprove of 'score' so well on a value they desperately wish their countrymen shared?

If you're neutral on that question, as I am, this is just an interesting difference. Doubtless the main factor here is that the US is a nation of immigrants, while European nations all have native traditions and populations and thick, deep cultures and identities.