12 May 2016

The Jews are a driving force for the left

Stephen Kershnar
Why are Jews so far left?
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
May 8, 2016

            There is a mystery as to why Jews, the highest earning religious group, are a driving force for the left in American politics. Their voting pattern makes no sense, both because it goes against their interest, but also because it rests on implausible views of the free markets and foreign wars.

            Jews are 2.2% of the American population. Compared to other religious groups, they make more money, are better educated, and have fewer children. According to the Pew Forum on Religious and Public Life, Jews are the highest earning religious group in America by a wide margin. Nearly one out of two members of the Jewish working population makes $100,000 or more. This dwarfs the national average. Fewer than one out of five working Americans make this much money.

They are the second most educated group (after Hindus) with more than a third having gone graduate work. They also have the lowest birth rate of any religious group.

            There is a debate as to what drives these high incomes. There is likely a genetic component to it. Jews are a genetically distinct grouping. Nicholas Wade notes that members of any Jewish community are as closely related to each other as fourth or fifth cousins, which is about 10 times higher than the relationship between any two people chosen at random off the streets of New York City. According to Charles Murray and John Entine, Jews’ middle IQ range (107-115) is well above the average and on some estimates the range is even higher.  

            Jews are on average leftists. In every election since 1916, with one exception, they’ve given a clear majority of their vote to the Democratic presidential candidate. The one exception was the first Reagan election when they gave the Democrat (Jimmy Carter) a plurality of their votes. They gave roughly 80% of their votes to Barack Obama in his first presidential election and roughly 70% in the second.

Jews constitute 10% of the Senate and 9 of them are far left Democrats. The 10th is socialist Bernie Sanders. They also include some of the most grating-and-obnoxious people in politics, including Chuck Schumer, Rahm Emanuel, and Debby Wasserman-Schultz. They’re 6% of the House (26 representatives) are all are Democrats. They constitute a third of the Supreme Court and all three are lockstep leftist justices.

Ron Kampeas of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency claims that 2/3 of the Democrats’ funding comes from Jews. I should note that I cannot find an academic source to confirm that number.

            Voting for Democrats harms their interests in several ways. First, the tax code is highly progressive in that the richer you are the more taxes you pay both as a percentage and total amount. So in voting for Democrats, Jews are, in effect, voting for higher taxes on themselves. The left’s relentless push to dramatically increase education spending and to transfer money from those with no underage children to those with them and punishes groups with fewer young children, such as Jews.

Second, the bane of Jewish success in the professions (medicine, law, and investment banking) is affirmative action and yet Jews continually support politicians that want to transfer educational positions from, on average, Asians and Jews with higher scores to blacks, Hispanics, and poor people with lower ones.

Third, it is clear that the Republican Party is far more supportive of Israel than is the Democratic Party (see, for example, the Obama administration) and yet Jews lavished money and votes on the latter.  

            One explanation for this far left political culture is that Jews view themselves as outsiders in American society and feel that the government protects outsiders. Alternatively, their left-wing views might stem from their having been concentrated in left-dominated urban settings, such as New York City and Baltimore. The problem with the first theory is that the same is not true for other outsiders who now vote Republican (for example. Mormons). The problem with the second is that it is unclear why they would have stuck to positions that are no longer in their interest.   
            A second explanation is that their sharp minds approve of the Democratic Party’s progressive ideas. The problem with this explanation is that the advantage of freedom over government control and capitalism over socialism is well-established and hence not something that bright people should be attracted too. Worse, their horrendous history in socialist countries (see, for example, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union) and countries with authoritarian rulers (see, for example, Czarist Russia) should have taught them that too much government control is a danger to them. In any case, the childish positions of politicians like Bernie Sanders (massive increases in payroll and corporate taxes and a 90% tax rate on the rich) should not appeal to anyone over age seven. That is, their voting pattern is remarkably uninformed by empirical findings, morality, or their European history.

            A third explanation is that there is a political ideology that has taken root in the Jewish psyche much as humor plays such a large role in their culture. The role of humor can be seen in the large number of comedians who were and are Jewish. This is in contrast to things such as professional sports where they are nearly absent. For example, surprisingly few Jews play in the NFL, NBA, and MLB, fight in the UFC, or win other prestigious athletic titles. I should note that a third of NFL teams and one half of NBA teams are owned by Jews. In some years, Jews are more likely to own one of these teams than play for them. Perhaps this embedded of ideology in the culture explains their voting pattern. It would explain the strange persistence of left-wing voting, even as the American left becomes increasingly hostile to their interests and, in fact, their country’s interest. It would also fit nicely with Jews’ historic leadership in other leftist causes such as the labor, civil rights, and the women’s movements.

            This explanation is not very satisfying, but likely the best of the lot. 

13 April 2016

The Case Against the Military Academies

Stephen Kershar
Eliminate the Military Academies
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
March 30, 2016

            The U.S. Military Academies are important to American military leadership. It produces 20% of military officers and in the past has produced many, if not most, of the most important commanders. Generals Ulysses Grant, John Pershing, Dwight Eisenhower, and George Patton, and Admirals Nimitz and Halsey, among others, led America’s most important wars. Given the role of the academies, it seems to be important that they produce the best products they can and part of their doing so involves admitting the best. This becomes even more important if the army has less accountability in the field than in years past, so failure to put the best people into military leadership gets magnified in terms of subpar combat leadership.

It is unclear whether the academies are worth preserving or whether the American people are benefitted by having the best and brightest go there.

            The academies are inefficient in the sense that they are a comparatively expensive way of generating officers. Writing in USA Today, Gregory Korte and Frederka Shouten note that an Air Force Academy graduate costs $487,000. Scott Beauchamp writing in The Washington Post points out that this is four times as much as a ROTC program. The same is true for the other academies. Worse, many of the students come from pricey high schools associated with the academies. Naval Academy professor Bruce Fleming points out that 20% of the students who attend Naval Academy come from the Naval Academy high school that costs roughly $50,000 per year.

Despite being so expensive, academy graduates are not better. A 2003 study did not find there was a difference in promotion rate between USNA and ROTC officers. The same study found no evidence that that officers who attended civilian colleges or any one of the other military colleges (consider, for example, the Citadel) are lesser leaders than their service-academy peers. Even if they were better officers, the military has a difficult time hanging on to them. About half of academy graduates leave the military after their obligation of 5-7 years as a junior officer.

Academy graduates do not appear to be ethically superior to graduates of ROTC programs and Officer Candidate School. About a third of the commanding officers removed in 2012 malfeasance – record numbers for Navy – were academy graduates. Academy students have been found to have involved in various scandals (consider sexual assault and cheating). Remember that as a baseline, only 20% of officers in the military are graduates of the academies.

While the admissions process is opaque, there is a concern for nepotism and corruption. In 2012, 58% of students came from a congressional or vice presidential nomination. The nominations are largely made in secret, done via an inconsistent and opaque process, and perhaps corrupt. Pretty much what one would expect of our sleazy congressmen.

More specifically, the nomination process results in unequal competitiveness (consider districts that differ in the number and quality of applicants) and the process is opaque (nominations are made largely in secret), inconsistent (there are no universal standards or ethical guidelines governing nominations, each congressional office has its own process and criteria for awarding them), and perhaps corrupt (some nominations go to children of well-connected families, friends, and campaign contributors).  There are also allegations of nepotism.

Currently, people may be appointed without a nomination if they are children of armed forces members killed or missing in action, who have died or have a 100% service-connected-disability, and children of employees who are in missing status. Also, the president may appoint children of career military personnel and winners of the Medal of Honor. This does not intuitively seem just, fair, or, even, an efficient way to improve military performance, especially compared to other compensatory means (consider, for example, money).

            By analogy, consider how the University of Iowa chooses its elite wrestlers. Iowa would never choose wrestlers based on their pedigree. If it did, the team would do extremely poorly because it moved away from merit-based assignment of positions. It is unclear why avoiding subpar wrestlers is more important than avoiding subpar officers.

In any case, on average, the best and brightest do not attend the academies. The vaunted intellectual reputation of academy graduates as equal to that of the Ivy League and its peers is inaccurate. Academy SAT scores are not elite. In one 2014 Forbes ranking, Air Force Academy was ranked 77th (1305) and ranked next to Occidental and Villanova Colleges. West Point was ranked 98th (1283) and ranked next to New College at Florida and UC-San Diego. Naval Academy was ranked 99th (1280) and ranked next to UC-San Diego and UW Madison.

According to Naval Academy’s Fleming, more than a quarter of the Naval Academy class has SAT scores below 600 and the average is lower than the nearby state school University of Maryland. These are respectable scores and the peer schools are strong ones, but still not close to the scores that characterize the Ivies and their elite peers (for example, MIT, Duke, and Stanford).

            It is thus unclear whether the academies are worth preserving and whether it is better to have the best and brightest attend them rather go elsewhere. Without market discipline, there is no clear way of knowing whether we want better, worse, or equivalent people attending the academy than do so today. This lack of knowledge undermines the case for trying to get better students attend the academy. It is not clear, then, if it would be in the country’s interest were the academy to be packed with Ivy-League-caliber students rather than the impressive, but not elite, students it currently has.

On a side note, this is true regardless of what one thinks makes one student better than a second at the academy. For example, it is independent of whether one student is better than a second in virtue of the first having more academic ability, leadership, moral character, or so on. 

30 March 2016

Easter and Atonement: The linchpin of Christianity is trouble

Stephen Kershnar
The Philosophy of Easter
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
March 29, 2016   

            Most of this paper’s readers celebrated Easter this past Sunday. Easter celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead in 30 AD. It occurred on the third day of burial after the Romans crucified him in 30 AD. The resurrection of Jesus is the cornerstone of the Christian faith (1 Corinthians 15: 12-20). The holiday is linked to atonement theory. Atonement theory asserts that Jesus’ suffering and death explains why God forgives or pardons people for their sins. The Bible repeatedly asserts this. See, for example, 1 Peter 2:24 and 1 Peter 3:18. Let’s consider whether atonement theory is true and, also, whether its truth should matter to us.

            The philosophical issue surrounding atonement theory is why God would cause or allow Jesus to suffer horribly and die as a way to forgive ordinary people for their sins. Here I will leave aside historical theories such as ransom theory (Jesus gave his own life as a sacrifice to buy mankind from Satan) and focus on more plausible theories.

            First, consider penal substitution theory. This theory was defended by Protestant luminaries such as Martin Luther, John Calvin, and John Wesley. This theory holds that God punished Jesus, who didn’t sin, instead of punishing people who did and that this substitution justifies his forgiving our sins. The problem is that penal substitution is unjust. If a young man commits a brutal battery and rape, it is unjust for the state to punish someone else for what he did. For example, it would be wrong to punish his mother, even if she volunteers to be punished in his place.

            The best theories of punishment assert that the right to be punished is held by the victim or her agent (consider, for example, her government). A third party does not have a right to punish a wrongdoer because the wrongdoer did not wrong her. God is not the victim of most, if not all, of people’s sins. In the above example, he was not the one who was beaten and raped. Thus God has no more right to punish sinners than a random Chinese man has a right to punish an American who murdered someone in Detroit.   

            God would have a right to punish sinners who victimize others if he owned people similar to how farmers own livestock. It is a loathsome theory, though, that one person can own a second in this way. Things might get murky if the second consents to being owned, but we can ignore this technicality because many people have not consented to God owning them.   
            Worse, many instances of sins (consider, for example, lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride) do not victimize anyone and hence do not justify punishment. Even if they did justify punishment, they surely do not justify eternal torment in hell. It is incredibly harsh to impose an infinite punishment on someone for a finite wrong. This would be analogous to sending someone to prison for fifty years for stealing a candy bar (and not even a good one, just a Peppermint Patty).

            If we assume the trinity is true, then in some sense God punished himself in order to forgive or pardon others. It is hard to see how this is any different from his just forgiving or pardoning them and thus, on this account, Jesus’ suffering would be irrelevant to God’s forgiveness.

            Second, consider debt theory. Catholic luminaries St. Anselm and St. Aquinas held this view (Satisfaction Theory). This theory holds that human beings are so full of evil that they owe a debt to God that they cannot pay. Jesus’ suffering and death pays off their debt and allows them to go to heaven.

            The problem with this theory is that it is unclear why Jesus’ suffering pays off people’s debts. Compensation in law (consider, for example, damages in tort law) aims to restore a victim to as good a position as she would have been in had she not be victimized. It is unclear how Jesus’ suffering and death could compensate God in this way for humanity’s sinful ways. It is not like the payment of money or services that are ordinarily used to compensate victims.

Also, it is hard to see why God doesn’t just forgive everyone’s debt. Creditors forgive debtors all the time. Consider, for example, how often fathers forgive their children’s debts.  

            Moreover, as in the punishment case, wrongdoers do not victimize God. Rather they victimize each other. The rapist mentioned above should be made to pay compensatory damages to his victim, but not the victim’s father, sister, or aunt. Similarly, wrongdoers didn’t victimize God so they don’t owe him a debt.  
            Again, the doctrine of the trinity makes debt theory mysterious. It is hard to see why God would sacrifice himself to pay off someone’s debt. Again, it is also hard to see how this is any different from his just forgiving their debt and thus, on this account, Jesus’ suffering would be irrelevant to God’s forgiveness.  

            Other theories of Jesus’ sacrifice make less sense than do the punishment and debt theories. The notion that Jesus died to teach people to refrain from sin, love God, or become virtuous is strange in that this is an inefficient way to present such a message. Why not do it directly? Alternatively, why not change people’s hearts? In any case, hell or annihilation would be an appropriate response to people’s failure to learn only if this failure warranted punishment or a debt and so we return to the above theories.

            Given the joy of Easter, chock full of family, friends, church, brunch, and chocolate Easter bunnies, it seems churlish to ask whether the holiday makes sense. Still, we want our holidays to make sense or, if they don’t, we might want to keep that in the back of our mind so that we emphasize the family, friends, and laughter and deemphasize the theory leading people to get together.