Trump Presser Fallout

1. The President of the United States cannot control himself. I know, this isn’t really news, but good grief, it is hard to imagine a president who does more damage to himself by not being able to handle his own temper. Even if he 100 percent believed the things he said today, he ought to have enough sense than to say them publicly. If I worked for this administration, I would send my resume out tonight — if not out of a sense of self-respect, then out of a sense of self-preservation. Trump’s temperament is going to bring his presidency crashing down. It has already started.

2. Trump is openly trying to legitimize people who should never be legitimized. Look at this exchange from today’s press conference

.. Now, let me be clear: there really are very fine people who are opposed to taking down Confederate statues. I know some of them. Their kind would not have gone anywhere near that far-right event in Charlottesville.

Among the far-right groups engaged in organizing the march were the

  • clubs of the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer,
  • the neo-Confederate League of the South,
  • the National Policy Institute [Richard Spencer’s think tank],
  • and the National Socialist Movement.

Other groups involved in the rally were

  • the Ku Klux Klan,
  • the Fraternal Order of Alt-Knights,
  • the 3 Percenters,
  • the Traditionalist Workers Party,
  • Identity Evropa,
  • the Oath Keepers,
  • Vanguard America,
  • the American Guard,
  • the Pennsylvania Light Foot Militia,
  • the New York Light Foot Militia,
  • the Virginia Minutemen Militia,
  • the Nationalist Front,
  • the Rise Above Movement,
  • True Cascadia,
  • and Anti-Communist Action.

Prominent far-right figures in attendance included

  • Richard B. Spencer,
  • Baked Alaska,
  • Augustus Invictus [an occultist, by the way — RD],
  • David Duke,
  • Nathan Damigo,
  • Matthew Heimbach,
  • Faith Goldy,
  • Mike Enoch,
  • League of the South founder Michael Hill,
  • editor Daniel Friberg,
  • former Business Insider CTO Pax Dickinson,
  • Daily Stormer writers Johnny Monoxide,
  • self-described “white activist” and organizer Jason Kessler, and
  • radio host Christopher Cantwell.

.. Who among this crew is a “very fine” person? The rally was called “Unite The Right,” so named by organizers because they wanted to bring together all the far-right groups. If you went down to that protest this weekend and marched alongside neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klansmen, you deserve to be condemned in the strongest possible terms.

3. Trump was right about the role of the antifa provocateurs, and he was right about this:

It is perfectly legitimate to raise the question of where this ends. Once the anti-Confederate crusaders remove all those statues, they’re going to turn on the Founding Fathers who owned slaves. Why wouldn’t they? And on what principle will they be stopped?

..  Christine Emba in the Washington Post. “It’s privileged status, not history, that’s being protected.” If this is a war on symbols of “privileged status,” it can never end.

.. Trump’s point is perfectly legitimate, and an important one. But the aftermath of Charlottesville is not the time or the context in which to discuss it. It is also perfectly legitimate to discuss the role of violent antifa provocateurs — but not when you are the President of the United States, and you are under fire for being unable to straightforwardly condemn neo-Nazis and Klansmen. 

.. The Left is emboldened now, and fired up. Trump is an accelerant. They will get nastier and more confrontational.

.. People on the Right — ordinary people, not far-right activists or people who identify with the far right in any way — will become angrier and more afraid of what the Left in power means for them.

.. watch the reaction to Mark Lilla’s book The Once And Future Liberal, which exhorts the left to abandon identity politics so they can start winning elections.) The radicalized Left will overreach, and we will see even angrier, more conservative Republicans elected to Congress.

.. 5. The Left — including in the media — will now despise all Trump voters equally, without qualification.

.. The liberal journalist Chris Arnade has been doing incredible work actually traveling the country and visiting Trump voters among the down and out. He’s made the point over and over again that a lot of people voted for Trump not because they’re bigots, but because they are in desperate straits, and have concluded that they have been forgotten by elites.

6. Trump has definitively made his brand pure poison. Anybody who stands by him going forward is going to suffer for it. Look at this:

7. The nation is at an extraordinarily weak moment. Nearly two out of three Americans disapprove of the president. That’s bad news for any president, but in Trump’s case, it’s worse, because he’s so polarizing. If this country were to face a serious crisis — a war, in the worst case — do you really see the nation uniting around Donald Trump? If I were an enemy of America, I would see this as an opportunity.

UPDATE: Here is a link to a 22-minute VICE report on the weekend’s events in Charlottesville.  Warning: it is not safe for work, because of language. But you need to see it if you have time. These far-right provocateurs are demonic. At the end, Christopher Cantwell, one of the leaders (and a heavily armed dude from New Hampshire) tells the reporter that the killing of the female protester by the fascist kid driving a car was justified — and that by the time they’re done, there will be a lot more dead. Watch it. It’s chilling.

Could a Lottery Be the Answer to America’s Poor Savings Rate?

Skewness is the idea that some low-probability event could change your life.

.. Prize-Linked Savings (PLS). In a nutshell, PLS is a kind of savings account that pools some of the interest from all depositors and pays out a big lottery prize every month or so. It combines the thrill of the lottery with the safety of a savings account. It’s sometimes called a “no-lose lottery,” since a depositor is automatically entered into the lottery but can’t lose the original money she deposits.


In South Africa, this was tried, but the State Lottery later shut it down.

This Thing For Which We Have No Name

Rory Sutherland [5.12.14]

Whatever you think about McDonald’s—it’s really, really good at not being bad. If you understand satisficing—which would be another concept hugely important to the understanding of human behavior—we think we maximize and we describe our behavior as if we’re maximizing but most of the time we go “I want something that’s pretty good and definitely isn’t awful.” Why do we go to McDonald’s? Is it the best food in town? Probably not. The search cost of finding the best place to eat in town, given that we’ve only got one shot at having a meal in a strange town, would be pretty high. But also when you go into McDonald’s you know you’re not going to be ripped off, you’re almost certainly not going to be ill.

.. One of the single moments where I realized this stuff is really useful is when I first tore up a pair of air tickets. My wife and I had some nonrefundable air tickets to go to Paris for the weekend and the day before we were due to travel, both of us went down with flu and were feeling appalling. We were there packing, thinking, we’ve bought these tickets, they’re nonrefundable, we have to go to Paris. And I suddenly said, “Hold on, we’re now going to spend another 300 or 400 pounds on hotels, art galleries, and everything else in order to feel crap in a hotel room rather than feeling mildly ill at home.” The moment when I tore up those travel tickets that was almost a little Damascus Road experience where I realized some of this thinking is practically useful in everyday life.

.. It is true of quite a lot of progress in human life that businesses, in their blundering way, sometimes discover things before academics do. This is true of the steam engine. People developed steam engines before anybody knew how they worked. It’s true of the jet engine, true of aspirin, and so forth. People discover through trial and error—what Nassim Taleb calls “stochastic tinkering.” People make progress on their own without really understanding how it works. At that point, academics come along, explain how what works works and to some extent take the credit for it. ”

.. I was seduced by economic thinking and the elegance of it, but at the same time having worked in advertising for 15 years, I was also fairly conscious of the fact that this isn’t really how people behave. We’d always known, in those fields of marketing, like direct marketing, where you actually got results—you sent out letters to 50,000 people and saw how many people replied—there was something going on that we didn’t understand. In other words, occasionally you might do incredibly elaborate, complex, and expensive work and have more or less no effect on the uptake of some product. Then someone would redesign the application form and slightly change the order of the questions on the application form, and the number of people replying would double. We knew there was this mysterious kind of dark force at work in human behavior.

The extraordinary thing about the marketing industry is that, by accident, it was pretty good at stumbling on some of these biases which behavioral economics later codified. There’s a wonderful/evil advertisement I mentioned in a recent piece, “How else could a month’s salary last a lifetime?”, which is a De Beers advertisement in about 1953 for engagement rings. Now, that’s a brilliant case of framing or price anchoring. How much should you spend on an engagement ring? We’ll suggest that whatever your month’s salary is, that’s what you should spend.

No one ever got fired for buying IBM” is a wonderful example of understanding loss aversion or “defensive decision making”. The advertising and marketing industry kind of acted as if it knew this stuff—but where we were disgracefully bad is that no one really attempted to sit down and codify it. When I discovered Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, and the whole other corpus on Behavioral Economics…. when I started discovering there was a whole field of literature about “this thing for which we have no name” …. these powerful forces which no one properly understood—that was incredibly exciting.

.. The idea that capitalism doesn’t work because it’s efficient—that’s a complete myth. Anybody who’s worked in any kind of capitalist enterprise for any length of time will know that it’s not even remotely efficient. There are spectacular inefficiencies all over the place.

Markets work because they’re adaptive. Bad things get killed, good new things sometimes get promoted. But most of the time what you’ll find in business is no one has the faintest idea of why the things that work actually work. What’s very useful here is that finally a group of academics with money, time, and immensely high intelligence were finally sitting down to codify and make sense of things, which we’d been aware of for years but which, to our shame, we’d never attempted to try and systematize.

.. I know that academics go practically deranged at the mention of Malcolm Gladwell. They’ll say some of the things that he says are unrepresentative, or slightly inaccurate, or he misrepresents science, or takes credit for this or that. My view is much more benign, which is, look, if 100,000 business people read his books and wake up the next day being slightly more open-minded or slightly happier to work with the counterintuitive than they were the day before, then that book’s a net victory and I’m not that bothered.

.. But that’s because business and academia are fundamentally different. In academia you have to be right, in business you’ve just got to be less stupid, less wrong than your competitors. And so the approach we have to progress is fundamentally different. We just look for ways to be less wrong. And of course we don’t need to know why something works, just that it does.

.. One of them is the assumptions of neoclassical economics, which basically creates an imaginary species in order to be able to mathematically model it.

.. Homo economicus, not only has it never existed, my contention is that if homo economicus evolved for some peculiar reason, it would die out very, very quickly or we would club it to death with sticks. It’s not in our evolutionary interest to be rational optimizers, by the way. Any species that’s rational also becomes highly predictable, and anybody who’s highly predictable is rapidly dead because you can anticipate his behavior and game it. Sometimes being unpredictable is the best approach.

.. In the commercial world it’s not in the interests of consumers to be rational. If you imagine a world of rational consumers where they all bought cars based on some formula, which was fuel economy multiplied by acceleration divided by depreciation or whatever it may be, what they would end up with would be really, really terrible cars. Car manufacturers would immediately game their predictable and easily understanding preferences and produce cars, which met all the metrics laid down for a desirable car, but the cars would be ugly, uncomfortable, and generally ghastly, and no pleasure to own. It is our interest, in a sense, as consumers to have a degree of unpredictability to our behavior and to be difficult to model. But homo economicus is really a contrivance in order to pretend that humans can be treated as though they were atoms or planets or something like that, which is a fundamental category error.

.. “Well, one way to get men to get tested for cancer more regularly is to make it easier and to use lots of nudges where you book appointments, you confirm appointments by text messaging and all that stuff.” Absolutely true. And I commend that work, by the way.

There’s another thing you can do which is interesting, and no one has tried this, which is to say, “If you have this test, we will give you the results in 24 hours.” Because nobody’s thought that’s relevant. Nobody thought the delay between having the test and getting the result is relevant to the human propensity to have that test. Credit card companies discovered this by accident.

Modern Economists: The Inept Firefighters’ Club

The problem is with the behavior and the incentive structure of the practitioners. There is overwhelming pressure to produce work that supports the status quo (i.e. redistributing to the rich), that doesn’t question authority, and that is needlessly complex. The result is a discipline in which much of the work is of little use, except to legitimate the existing power structure.

.. When I tried to raise these issues in years prior to the crash, my arguments were largely laughed off by a wide range of economists. I didn’t have the stature, and besides, the argument was far too simple.

.. I pointed out that his Administration’s assumed rates of return in the stock market were impossible given the current price-to-earnings (P/E) ratios in the market and the economic growth rates assumed by the Social Security trustees. This was an argument based on simple algebra.

..  it was necessary to have something more complex than simple algebra to be taken seriously at Brookings.

.. And how about a little accountability for economists when they mess up? There is a large literature on the importance of being able to dismiss workers who do not perform their jobs well. We all know and expect that a dishwasher who keeps breaking the dishes or a custodian who can’t clean the toilets loses his job.

.. I have suggested that economists who prescribe policies that turn out badly, or who can’t see multi-trillion dollar housing bubbles coming whose collapse sinks the economy, ought to pay a price in terms of their careers. Invariably people think I am joking. When they realize I am serious, they think I am crazy or vindictive.