A 15 Minimum Wage?

For those of you who are familiar with modern economics, you may have noticed that a few months ago, a few hundred economists signed a petition backing Bernie Sanders’ proposal for a $15 national minimum wage.

You may also be aware of the discussions and debates within the profession about the effects of the minimum wage on employment. If not, you need to be.

A few notes on the first link: of course Bernie Sanders, being the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, uses the Committee’s blog as a sounding board for his own campaign. These are just some economists. I wouldn’t use the phrase “top economists” without consulting this list here of the IGM panel.

You’ll notice that most of the economists who think employment effects will be small tend to also be quite uncertain in their confidence, and no one strongly disagrees that employment would be lower. Nearly everyone strongly thinks that the “stimulus” effect of a minimum wage isn’t a viable expectation, particularly on a macro level.

Then there is always the question of regional price variation, which is often entirely ignored in the debate when you ask economists living in high-cost areas like the Bay Area or New York for their response. For them, a minimum wage shift is quite low in comparison to current wage rates, as some areas already have minimum wages or market wages approaching the target $15. But for the rest of America (the entire Midwest, most of the South, and those outside the coastal Megapolis), the change is far larger, which may exacerbate employment effects, especially in areas with smaller labor markets. This would be especially concerning for areas in which the median incomes in the area are close to the minimum wage.

If you want a longer, more technical explanation, here is a summary of an outstanding anonymous commenter:

http://cafehayek.com/2015/11/an-anonymous-first-rate-economist-on-the-economics-of-the-minimum-wage.html#more-40027

In short:

Minimum wages represent the most glorious political tool that anyone can utilize.

  1. It galvanizes your base.
  2. You get to demonize another class or political opposition as being unfeeling, selfish, and out of touch.
  3. The nuances of why the idea could backfire are lost on most voters, particularly in light of the fact that minimum wages are awkwardly blunt policy instruments to push against poverty.
  4. You get to repeat the process every few years during presidential election cycles as price levels increase (perhaps precipitated by the previous wage increase). It’s the political fountain of youth.

I don’t have patience for politicized stuff. I like the meat of the discussion.

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When Poorly Constructed Studies Make Things Worse

Recently, I came across a psychology study (published in a biology journal of all places; I guess it wasn’t up to snuff for the actual field it was designed for) claiming the children of atheists are more altruistic than children of Christians and Muslims. (As a preface, you should check out my guide for social science literacy).

The news about the study is here:

A short technical critique is here:

Here’s Why that Study Stinks

To start, this “experimental” setup pales in comparison to empirical studies that show that groups within Christianity are the most altruistic groups in American society.

My criticism for this study, however, is in their definitions. The study designers explicitly define “morality” in terms of a single aspect of most moral matrices: that of empathy.

The core shortfall of this approach is that altruism is multifaceted, and cannot be defined in terms of a single variable alone.

For example, consider the actions of a man who gives a drug addict on the street his coat. Altruistic, right?

Then compare that action to another man who takes the drugs away from the person on the street (read: stealing!), and offers the person a choice to stay clean and have a job (doesn’t actually give him anything) or remain where he/she is.

Which is more altruistic? If we rely on results for the answer, altruism depends on the recipient, which is ironic to say the least. Should the addict choose the job, his/her life would be changed for the long-term. If they do not, the effect is zero.
If we rely on intent, whose intentions were purer?

The problem in defining altruism is that respect for others’ choices and the development of their own moral framework is excluded from the definitions of altruism in this study. Is altruism giving a small piece of help? Or is altruism caring for the whole person?

For example, if an individual is guilty of violating laws of cleanliness or propriety, it may be in their long-term best interests to stop the activity and learn proper behavior. Often times that need of change is only evident after some punitive measure is taken by the larger group. Parents punishing their children come to mind quite easily as an example.

Jonathan Haidt’s work puts this into perspective: religions individuals have a far broader definition of morality. They not only include the morality against temporary suffering and oppression, but of social responsibility, prevention of cheating, loyalty, sacrifice, and cleanliness. The study above links altruism to only one of these.

If the morality espoused by this study is what is becoming popular, then heaven help us, because we’ve sunk into the shallowest form of one-dimensional morality there is.

The study does not contribute to our understanding of philosophies among religious versus nonreligious people. It simply acts as gunpowder in the culture wars.

On Media Bias and “Journalism”

It’s no secret that partisan media have added to the polarization of the country.

After all, a little learning is the enemy of truth. Once given a small morsel of knowledge, most people, in their pride, will assume they have tasted the entire meal.

That is one of the reasons tolerance is necessary, because there may be information out there unavailable to one or both parties.

But there are some places that push even the label of “journalism” too far.

From a recent court case involving Mother Jones:

Though winning the case, Mother Jones received this critique:“Mother Jones describes its articles as ‘smart, fearless journalism,’ ‘ahead of the curve’ and ‘about reporting.’

Contrary to its perception of itself, this case illustrates the non-objective bias of Mother Jones and its approach in seeking out only the negative to support its position; resorting to sophomoric bullying and name-calling to lead the reader to adopt its particular agenda.”

“…The journalistic model revealed to the Court in the record of this lawsuit is anything but a ‘guardian of true liberty.’ Instead, it is little more than mud-slinging, advertised as journalistic fearlessness, which offers very little in the way of a complete or balanced picture for its readers. Instead of being a leader in educating the people about civil discourse in an era of increased political polarization, the press in general, and Mother Jones in particular, leads the way in demonizing, rather than fairly discussing, those whose points of view differ from its own.”

Correct information is key to to an informed electorate. In addition to perpetuating incorrect information, I am of the opinion that not challenging opinions to expose or at least test their veracity is to be marked complicit in the dissemination of incorrect information, which does no one any good.

Media outlets still have a public duty. Too often, they forget that.

I suppose that’s why Aaron Sorkin gets so wrapped up in talking about the news.

progress is slow

On Spiritual Experience

I came upon this insightful quote from John Widtsoe from 1960. With all the talk of so called personal experience that particular groups use as justification for ignoring counsel given, I felt impressed to share.

“If a person who has received such manifestations by dream, vison, or otherwise, feels impressed to relate it beyond his immediate family circle, he should present it to his bishop, but not beyond. The bishop, then, may decide upon its further use, if any, or may submit it to those of higher authority for action. The gift was a personal one, not for the Church as a whole, and the recipient is under obligation, in harmony with the established order, not to broadcast it over the Church.”

 -John A. Widtsoe, “What Shall Be Done with Personal Spiritual Manifestations?” In Evidences and Reconciliations, 1960, p. 99.

I find that this method of sharing is a keep safe for our spiritual confidence. It is a way of taking John’s advice to “Try the spirits,” because not everything that passes our earthly understanding is necessarily divine, and even closely held experiences may be used as a tool against us if taken out of their proper context or purpose.

The magicians of Egypt were also able to create ostensible miracles.

As we test them, we may see that our understanding was wrong. If we are wrong privately, we can use it as a personal teaching moment that will be for our good. Bishops aid in that process.
If we are wrong publicly, it is far harder to admit it and much more difficult to move on. It may leave us feeling foolish, and that was not the Lord’s intention with learning experiences, as that would not contribute to our education.

Religion, Happiness, and Your Metric Weapon of Choice

A particular article is making the rounds on social media again, and it’s actually quite depressing to see that people are buying into it.

It started with Jezebel. Rather than respond to each asinine point individually, I would rather focus on two concepts:

1) if secular parents were doing “better” than religious parents, we would also expect to see secular adults being happier than religious adults. They’re not. In fact, the opposite is true.

2) The measures of outcomes are purely subjective and muddy the waters of what we are actually talking about. Odd metrics like militaristic tendencies, desire to fit in with the “cool” kids at school, and nationalism have suddenly turned from expressions of loyalty and attempts at navigating social interactions to demerits in the neighborhood softball league of parenting. Social science is about making things clear, not imposing your political worldview onto your research, which is a particularly common vice in psychology and sociology.

My largest frustration is that the author uses the comments of one sociologist, who can only be described as ignorant of omitted variable bias (although most of his publications have been books and commentary that are not peer reviewed, and his CV contains roughly 10 peer-reviewed publications over the course of 20 years, so maybe we’re asking for too much scientific method), as justification for her anti-religious bigotry and ignorance of social science and of what actually makes religion tick.

To quote her comment to the Christians with whom she grew up: “[To your] fear-mongering attitudes and pervy youth group leaders and gross, self-righteous, hypocritical, sexist, homophobic, racist, shallow, anti-intellectual, anti-questioning, anti-books, anti-music, anti-art…Christianity. FACE. Big, stupid FACE in your FACE.”

Religion and Happiness

If secular parents were doing so well and imparting principles that apparently make them “better,” we would expect secularism to yield greater long-run happiness. Yet there is a longstanding correlation between self-reported happiness and religious participation. More recently, that correlation has been studied causally.

Religious participation causes an increase in self-reported happiness. That’s a causal relationship.

See here, here, and here for just a few papers.

If we care about the long-term happiness of children, imparting the values of religious participation places them in a better position to be happier.

Social Science Should Use Scientific Measurements

The author of the original LA Times piece, which the Jezebel author used as an ironically vengeful method of angry retaliation against any religious person from her upbringing, Phil Zuckerman, says plainly:

“Many psychological studies show that secular grownups tend to be less vengeful, less nationalistic, less militaristic, less authoritarian and more tolerant, on average, than religious adults.”

Being militaristic is a tradition of high moral values, self-sacrifice, and of being committed to justice. At some point after Vietnam and once the Flower Children realized they needed to go home and get a job in order to have something to eat, they and their children in academia began to downplay the value system inherent in the desire to serve in favor of the caricatures of soldiers used for propaganda during the war. The same goes for nationalism.

Pride in one’s country and desire to maintain it was the motivating force behind Lincoln’s determination to preserve the Union during the Civil War. The generals that would not engage militarily were disgraced and dismissed from duty (e.g. General McClellan). We don’t fault Lincoln for doing so. We built a memorial to him for exactly those actions. Yet it is easy for an academic to claim that because nationalism played some role in bringing Europe into two World Wars, they can label it as a socially undesirable outcome.

To assert that nationalism is a net negative is not far from the attitudes of those who get angry when someone says, “God bless America,” as the offended party silently adds the parenthetical statement (“and damn all the others”) unnecessarily, as if nationalism must come at the expense of international cooperation and goodwill.

Then there is the claim of racism among religions. The paper that the article links to explicitly connects racism among religious people to in-group dynamics that understandably lead to suspicion of outsiders. Religious people have the strongest and most functional social networks and the tightest in-group dynamics, as well as having high correlations of in-race sorting. Put a group of tightly bound and monolithic atheists and agnostics in a room, you will get the same amount of suspicion toward those outside the group. The only difference is that we have a history of overcoming racism as an out-group bias which is not PC, while anti-religious sentiments are still acceptable and have less of an outrage factor.

Looking at the comments section of the Jezebel article, the amount of anti-religious fervor now brewing in the United States among group-think prone elites and some groups of LGBT activists, and the bigoted sentiments expressed exactly by the author herself, we have direct evidence that group dynamics are the cause. It’s as if the author didn’t read the paper to which she linked her story, because it harms her case as much as she hopes it would be made. The same goes for comments on empathy from the author and Zuckerman. In tribal groups, empathy extends only so far as the identity of the group, hence the hostility toward religion that “empathy” in and of itself does not overcome in secular groups, because, from an evolutionary perspective, empathy was designed for group cohesion, not intergroup cooperation.

But Christianity, at its core, imposes on itself bounds on this self-serving nature of tribes: “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”

Alongside this go the virtues of forgiveness, mercy, and justice, which insist Christians extend themselves beyond their groups. Do many Christians fail to live up to this? Sure. But at least the laws that govern their behavior demand such high ideals without excuses and rationalization.

If I want to measure doing “better” as how many friends my children or I have in order to make religious people look good, I could simply point out that religious parents tend to make more friends themselves and for their children (as the author admits–that she would have more friends if she were involved at a church). But I am not out to make anyone look better. I’m not interested in wielding a metric weapon to settle old scores against those I feel have slighted me.

I’m interested in asking a question and getting to the answer the best way I know how. That’s how science works. If you believe in science as you claim, then let’s talk social science and stop with this pseudo-science.

Feminist Satire, or Actual Attitudes?

Looking through this site, I could have SWORN this was satire. Alas, I was mistaken.

This is the actual tagline to an article:

“Have you made any of these mistakes while trying to be chivalrous or kind? They’re really common, and a lot of guys don’t understand why they’re not okay. This comic will clear things up for you. Find out what you’re getting wrong, and get the keys to being kind without entitlement, dominance, or other sexist microaggressions.”

That’s right–find out why a common act of kindness actually makes you unkind and subject to a politically detestable label.

From the comically dramatic men and silent-and-dignified women, it indeed smacks of delicious satire, like an episode of SNL. It’s not. I would have laughed if it were.
I think this is why so many people don’t like what modern feminism has become, and why real conversations about supporting women’s rights keep hitting road blocks.

Using this same logic, a woman NOT holding the door for me or NOT picking up my heavy groceries is a sexist micro-aggression because they are unconsciously assuming that I can handle it because I’m a man. Not responding with a thank you when someone holds the door for you is uncomplicated–it’s rude, whether you’re a man or a woman. Is not responding to such a gesture rendered by a man because he is a man a sexist micro-aggression? Or is it perhaps a micro-aggression to see that the kindness of a male is reduced to his desire for romantic and/or sexual expression?

Hating on innocuous acts only fuels micro-anger, and is not too far away from paranoia. If you want people to get along, you can’t insist that they have ulterior motives or unconscious lust in everything they do.

You may just receive that in return. I’m sure there are more micro-aggressions to be found just lurking around somewhere.

Judge not, that ye be not judged.For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.

Families are Forever: What We Forget When Things Go Wrong in the Meantime

There’s been a lot on my mind when it comes to people taking issue with the doctrine of eternal families. Especially when it comes to people sitting in church and feeling somehow harmed because of the “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.” I guess you can file this post under tough but tender love. My central point is that the doctrine of families applies to everyone at all times, including those who may feel like it doesn’t.

A few things right off the bat.

No, the Proclamation has not been canonized. But that doesn’t make it any less scriptural. It wasn’t voted on by the body of the church. But that does not mean that God didn’t direct it. No, it is not a part of the temple recommend interview. But sustaining prophets in their priesthood keys is. It’s not a binding political document. But it is doctrinally binding and supported by other doctrines taught across this and previous dispensations to be rejected at our own risk (and the risk of those who look to our testimonies).

So then, seeing that the doctrine taught in the Proclamation is of God, it follows that if the doctrine of families hurts this moment, then it is not the church, the Proclamation, or God that needs to change. The change necessary for us to obtain peace consists in coming to Christ with a broken heart and contrite spirit to learn of the peaceable things of the kingdom and have our perspectives changed by him. There are things we need to allow the Lord to change in us.

The Doctrines in the Proclamation

The text in the Proclamation does not reflect a new concept. Each statement is a reiteration of existing doctrines.

Our Heavenly Father, an exalted and perfected man of flesh and bones, father of Christ (Jehovah) lives in a family unit after which he patterned the family of Adam and Eve. That includes the fact that we have a Mother. Such a doctrine has been part of modern teaching since the restoration.

In addition, we have plenty of reason to believe it has been a part of ancient teaching, not actively discussed, much like the restrictions to the lesser Law of Moses and contraction of greater priesthood responsibilities, or even suppressed by certain kings.

The order of the family of Adam was given as an archetype of our heavenly family. It follows that if family relationships sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise are to be eternal, and exist as the key for exaltation, and we follow the example of Christ, who does nothing except was he sees the Father do, then we are on a course to become like God in our relationships, ergo, God the Father is a literal Father as he instituted the beginning pattern of families to be.

The Hebrew name for God “Elohim”, denoting “greatest of all gods” itself is a plural noun. As we follow the same path, our identities as God’s children, whose eternal potential is currently in embryo–our identities as eternal beings, like his, are inextricably tied to our identities as Husbands and Wives, Mothers and Fathers.

We don’t know much about the creation of spirits. But we can make some inferences. The First Presidency of Joseph F Smith affirmed that:

“…man, as a spirit, was begotten and born of heavenly parents, and reared to maturity in the eternal mansions of the Father,” and man is the “offspring of celestial parentage.” They also include that “all men and women are in the similitude of the universal Father and Mother and are literally the sons and daughters of Deity.” (Man: His Origin and Destiny, pp.348-355.)

At the very least, we understand that the act of creation of spirits is a co-creative act between Father and Mother, hence why those who make the decision of their own accord not to choose an eternal companion are left without this opportunity.

This is why God created male and female bodies to house spirits, as we existed in spirit as sons and daughters, male and female, because all things were created spiritually before they were physically on the earth.

Thus gender, marriage, and the role of creation are all based upon this divinely appointed pattern. That is the doctrine.

So Why Does it Hurt?

First and foremost, in the case of my friends and family members who struggle with this, the pain comes because someone cannot see right this minute how this eternal pattern applies to them. All they see is that they are different somehow–biologically stuck between gender, attracted to someone of the same sex, divorced, single, etc. They see happy families to which this pattern does apply, and it only exacerbates the differences they see. In short, they forget the full breadth of doctrine as it applies to families. One might even call it a keyhole view, rather than focusing on what a friend called “The other 50,000 or so testimonies.”

But just as missing a loved one and longing for their presence does not necessarily imply that they should never be away from you or that the reasons they are away are wrong, the temporal pain of being the exception right now does not imply that the pattern is somehow wrong. The Proclamation can be 100% correct and still hurt.

The real risk of this pain comes in assuming that because we aren’t party to some blessings right here and now pertaining to this pattern, or because we have certain temporal complications in life that we are somehow justified in ignoring or criticizing the doctrine.

We’re not.

Furthermore, it won’t help anyone get closer to the Savior to insist that the eternal pattern he died to maintain in the hereafter is wrong.

Pain persists, I feel, because of a few main contributors:

1) Damaging ideas about the timing of blessings. Nowhere in our canon does it restrict the reception of blessings to actions in this life only. Every blessing for which we are worthy will be given us. Church members can get caught up in thinking others will never receive a blessing because of their behaviors right now, and that sins are met with irrevocable condemnations. That’s not our doctrine. Others get so offended because they think a benevolent God should give them certain blessings in this life, and that making them wait for blessings in the next life is cruel.

So don’t assume someone is set forever in the state they are in right now. But also understand that some blessings may not come in this life. The greatest figures of our scriptures did not receive the measure of the blessings promised to them until after they died. Abraham is the prime example. His blessings of being a “great father” were all posthumously received. And if we are to be in company with these people of Abraham’s caliber, I don’t see how we could feel comfortable unless we have exhibited at least some measure of the same faith and determination.

2) Not realizing that repentance is always available, and that there is some measure of repentance, change, and learning available after death.

The fact that we perform ordinances in temples on behalf of the dead that they may reject shows we have the capacity to change after this life. Although the same spirit that possesses our bodies here will continue, there is a point at which the chemicals and biological processes and imperfections of the temporal body will no longer apply, and we may have clearer understandings of how perfectly the pattern of families DOES apply to us.

3) Not remembering that the resurrection returns us to the perfection of our spirits, male and female, with God-intended design, free from the things that have gotten in the way.

Joseph F. Smith noted what was taught by other leaders: “We will meet the same identical being that we associated with here in the flesh—not some other soul, some other being, or the same being in some other form, but the same identity and the same form and likeness, the same person we knew and were associated with in our mortal existence, even to the wounds in the flesh. Not that a person will always be marred by scars, wounds, deformities, defects or infirmities, for these will be removed in their course [per Alma 42], in their proper time, according to the merciful providence of God. Deformity will be removed; defects will be eliminated, and men and women shall attain to the perfection of their spirits, to the perfection that God designed in the beginning” (Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, 23).

If all these things make the temporal frustrations we face right in the end, then what is really painful about the doctrine? I think it’s only when we are shortsighted and get marred by the “cares of the world” that our vision begins to dim.

So What About The “Exceptions?”

That leaves the question here: for those to whom the pattern does not APPEAR to apply at this moment, but to whom the eternal pattern will and does apply, what are they to do?

Remembering that God’s work is to “Bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man,” (i.e. bring us to the joy and state in which he enjoys his greatest happiness), we should recognize that, according to him:

Behold, this is your work, to keep my commandments, yea, with all your might, mind and strength.”

Whatever he asks us to do, whatever blessing it appears we are forgoing now, and whatever pain may be experienced by feeling like the pattern of families doesn’t apply right now, creating an alternate, temporal version of it that won’t endure is NOT what our work is about, and it won’t lead us to the greatest happiness in the long run. Whatever pains there are, you can bet that Christ paid the price for every step that hurts. Every hour of obedience which he requires is repaid ten-fold. All losses are made up. So if he asks it, then it must be extremely important for our ultimate good, because if it weren’t, he would be suffering needlessly.

Not knowing HOW the plan applies right now–these are the types of temporal unknowns the atonement was designed to heal. It is that relationship with Christ that the gospel is designed to strengthen first. Detaching ourselves from the vine because we’re not sure what direction the vine will grow this instant in favor of the pursuit of some other vine will always leave us dried and lifeless at some point.

The kind of perfection God expects is for us to be “whole” or “complete” (Greek-telios). Wholeness only comes in the atonement and grace of Christ. The fear of the unknown is swallowed up in knowing we have access to he who knows all.

Families truly are forever. But when forever starts may be different depending on temporal circumstances. And at some point, we know what the end result will be.

There are just a few things to figure out in the meantime. Until then, our responsibility is simple.