NBER Report Suggests We Should Not Blame Polarization on the Internet.

The National Bureau of Economic Research has long been a highly respected and independent source of analysis on economic and statistical matters.  So it is well worth paying attention when they focus on the impact of the Internet on polarization.

A recent Report concludes:

We find that the increase in polarization is largest among the groups least likely to use the internet and social media.  .  .  .  Across intermediate age groups, the growth in polarization is consistently higher among older respondents. Polarization increases more for the old than the young in eight of the nine individual measures. A similar pattern emerges for groups of respondents divided by our broader index of predicted internet use.

The paper admits that there may be ways of explaining the phenomenon to dissolve the inconsistency, but, given its breadth of measures, that seems unlikely.

Indeed un-linking Internet access statistics from polarization does not exclude the possibility that the existence of the Internet incentivizes the taking of extreme positions, and that those incentives work on populations regardless of their internet access.  It may be, or example, that what the Internet did was make it possible for marginal voices to be amplified much more by mainstream media who reach lower information people.  In other words, we would be worse off without the Internet.

However, when you think about it, the “beauty” of the “Internet did it” meme is that no one needs to take responsibility.  Not the commentators, not the politicians, not the newsfolks, not the religious leaders.  Not the increase in inequality, not the massive insecurity, not the reduction of need for those with traditional blue collar jobs.  Not the increasing costs of housing and education and the impossibility of getting both.

Holding people responsible for what they say and advocate — and what they said yesterday, and weeks, months and years ago is easier than ever before.  Understanding economic change should also be easier than ever.

So, while the Internet alone may have some second order effects, its much more important to look at the big picture of ideas and leadership.



What Would Martin Luther King Have Done on that United Flight

I would like to think that he would have led the way in blocking  the aisle by just lying down and linking arms with others.

I would also like to think the would have sought to engage the security cops (who were obviously utterly untrained for this situation) and the other airline employees.

I also suspect that he would have acknowledged to them that they, the employees, were under huge pressure to get things done to unreasonably tight timelines.  Indeed, maybe he might have suggested that the cabin crew and passengers were both victims, and that to see each other as adversaries is the wrong way to go.

Maybe the video would not have been so dramatic, but maybe it would have helped foster a much more powerful dialog about avoiding being divided, but rather uniting (so to speak.)

In any event, I hope many who fly are asking themselves what they would have done if they had been on the flight.  I suspect that next time round, things will play out very differently.


Google Enhances Consumer Power Over Airlines By Making It Easier For Users to Boycott Specific Airlines (Or Rather Alliances) — Like You Know Who. This could Become Much More General.

So we all get want to make a statement about the airline that is planning on issuing cattle prods to their staff (not really, at least so far.) (Great branding ideas in the link.)

It turns out that Google’s travel engine already makes that somewhat easier.  It let yous limit searches to one of the three major alliances, and all you have to do is do two searches, limiting the ones other than you target.

One thing is for sure.  Google already knows for example whether there have been any changes in the choices of alliances in the last few days.

One of the beauties of this approach is that the alliance partners pay a price — guilt by association — and they are likely to be a force for changes in behavior.

Of course, Google could and should enhance this, so that you can label one, or more, airlines as “on boycott.”

Indeed, more generally, this consumer power aggregator could be expanded to any kind of online product selection system, and would be particularly powerful in those areas in which people make multiple individual purchases such as groceries, music, etc — typical for online transactions.

Actually, some of us might still be boycotting Florida Orange Juice if we had had a tool like this 30 years ago.










Two Frightening Reminders About Trump’s Instability and Nukes

There are now two mental health professional positions being articulated about Trump as follows:

One:  Letter to New York Times by leading professionals that:

Mr. Trump’s speech and actions demonstrate an inability to tolerate views different from his own, leading to rage reactions. His words and behavior suggest a profound inability to empathize. Individuals with these traits distort reality to suit their psychological state, attacking facts and those who convey them (journalists, scientists).

In a powerful leader, these attacks are likely to increase, as his personal myth of greatness appears to be confirmed. We believe that the grave emotional instability indicated by Mr. Trump’s speech and actions makes him incapable of serving safely as president.

Two:  Response letter to Times from psychiatrist who wrote DSM definition of narcissistic personality disorder, and mentioning that many have referred to this ddisorder.  (Note, however, that the above letter did not make any specific diagnosis, presumably in an attempt to avoid falling afoul of the APA’s “Goldwater Rule,” purporting to prohibit a “professional opinion [without] .  .  . an examination and .  .  .  proper authorization for such a statement“)

Mr. Trump causes severe distress rather than experiencing it and has been richly rewarded, rather than punished, for his grandiosity, self-absorption and lack of empathy. It is a stigmatizing insult to the mentally ill (who are mostly well behaved and well meaning) to be lumped with Mr. Trump (who is neither).

Bad behavior is rarely a sign of mental illness, and the mentally ill behave badly only rarely. Psychiatric name-calling is a misguided way of countering Mr. Trump’s attack on democracy. He can, and should, be appropriately denounced for his ignorance, incompetence, impulsivity and pursuit of dictatorial powers.

His psychological motivations are too obvious to be interesting, and analyzing them will not halt his headlong power grab. The antidote to a dystopic Trumpean dark age is political, not psychological.

Regardless of where you fit between these views — which are not, Ieast least, inconsistent, particularly since neither offesr a specific diagnosis — and regardless of which diagnosis if any appeals to you, two facts remain:

  1. This is the first time since Adolph Hitler that such demonstratively unstable and unpredictable leader has been in control of a country of significant size.
  2. It is also the first time EVER than such a leader has controlled nuclear weapons.

Obviously those politicians who refuse to take appropriate steps, and those who enable this leader in any way, are fully responsible for whatever transpires.

Indeed, the question has to be asked at what point does the APA’s “Goldwater Rule,” in addition to arguably violating the First Amendment rights of psychiatrists, itself become such an enabler.


How to Close Down Phone Spamming — Millions Could Answer and Talk and Talk and Talk and Talk

The phone spam seems to be getting much worse, particularly on mobiles.  For the first time, my default is to not answer all unrecognized calls.  Most of them seem to come from a small number of law violators.

So, here is crowd way to respond.

Instead of not answering, or hanging up, actually follow the steps and engage the person with vague discussion, thus wasting their time.  If enough do that, it will simply no longer be worth the commissions, and the industry will die.  Its all about incentives.  Such a campaign could be set up to be triggered only when a certain number had signed up to do it.

There is a risk, I suppose, that you will end up getting extra calls, either as revenge, or because their algorithm will tell the companies that it will be worth it to call.  J]If enough people just keep wasting their time, and the ploy fails.

Remember, it is critical not to give out any information, or to do anything on your phone or computer that is suggested by the perpetrator.

By the way, in my conversations, the one approach that seems to work is things like: “What do your parents think of you doing this job?”  “What does you God think?”  In one case the person on the phone simply said, “I have to eat.”

What would be best of all, however, would be if an app could be triggered on your phone so with an AI interface that would engage the caller in conversation, without any more intervention on the victim’s part.  The software could be updated based on how effective its own data shows it to be.

A great project for a hackathon.