Monday, November 08, 2010

Americans prefer Swedish wealth distribution

I was a little bit depressed about the recent US midterm election. Not so much because of the outcome. I wasn't too convinced of Obama when he was elected. The way his campaign went, I was afraid he'd turn out to be a populist and change his course every time some interest group's wishes made it into the headlines. But I severely underestimated the man. In contrast to most of the commentators on the outcome of the midterm election, he is evidently well aware that halfway through his term he's in a lose-lose situation anyway. Either he keeps his course and is being criticized for not being a miracle healer, or he'd listen to the masses and claim he changed his mind and be criticized for that. Whether one thinks his political agenda is promising or not, in that situation at least he's aiming at doing the right thing in the course of history, rather than doing the right thing to be re-elected. In January, Obama said:
"I'd rather be a really good one-term president than a mediocre two-term president."

A rare case of a politician with a backbone. Given that, I can't say I was surprised by the election outcome. No, what depressed me was the lacking substance of arguments. The American nation strikes me as similar to a group of overweight people who at their first weight watchers meeting chants "Yes, we can" and cheer upon change. But when change is staring back from the dinner plate, and change on the scale leaves waiting, they realize change doesn't come easy. And the vast majority of them still doesn't know the difference between social democracy and socialism. Clearly, the world would be a better place if everybody would read my blog ;-)

Anyway, to some extend I don't care very much how the Americans organize their society. I think they're not fully using their potential, and find that a shame, but after all it's their decision what they put on their plates and shovel down their throats while I, well, I live in Sweden. And that brings me to one of the most amusing studies I've come across lately:
    Building a Better America – One Wealth Quintile at a Time
    By Michael I. Norton and Dan Ariely, PDF here

Michael Norton, from Harvard Business School, and his colleague Dan Ariely, from Duke University, asked a random sample of US citizens what wealth distribution they think is ideal. In 2005, they surveyed 5,522 people. Asked for their voting pattern in the 2004 election, the sample reproduced well the actual voting result. The survey respondents were given a definition for wealth so there was no ambiguity. Then they were shown three pie charts. Each slice of the pie represents 20% of the population, from the poorest to the wealthiest. The size of the slice is the wealth owned by this group. One pie showed a perfectly equal distribution. The other two pies were unlabeled but showed the distribution of the USA and that of Sweden.

The result: 47% of Americans preferred the Swedish wealth distribution, followed by 43% for the equal distribution, while only 10% found ideal the actual distribution. Just focusing on the Swedish vs the US distribution, 92% of Americans prefer the Swedish one over their own.

[Source: Fig 1 of this paper]

It turns out that these preferences depend only very little on demographic factors like gender or whether they voted for Bush or Kerry in 2004. Considered how convinced Americans tend to be about their own greatness, this result seems somewhat puzzling. However, keep in mind that these pie charts were unlabeled in the questionnaire. The replies makes sense if you come to the next question. In that, survey respondents were asked first to guess the wealth distribution in the USA, and then chose what distribution they would find ideal. It turns out that most Americans severely underestimate the rich-poor gap in their own country, and in addition would prefer a distribution that is even more equal than their erroneous estimate. This is shown in the figure below.

[Source: Fig 3 of this paper]

Again, note how little both the estimate as well as the ideal depends on demographic factors.

This result fits quite well with previous studies which had shown that Americans overestimate the social mobility in their own country. They're still dreaming the American dream, despite its evident conflict with reality.

After I stopped laughing I started wondering what this result really means. The survey respondents are very clearly considering the present wealth distribution as not ideal. However, the wealth distribution is a fairly abstract observable. Would you have been able to accurately estimate it? My own estimate would have been considerably closer to the actual one than the average guess, but that's only because I happen to have seen the relevant numbers before.

Norton and Ariely had a good reason to ask these questions: The philosopher John Rawls proposed that justice should be identified by taking a position behind a "veil of ignorance." For that, you're supposed to imagine that you decide on a particular question - for example the distribution of wealth - and only after you've decided you'll be randomly assigned a position within that society you've just created. I've never been really convinced by that approach. It's much too heady, or call it utopian. As a matter of fact, people don't live behind a veil of ignorance and their own social status does influence their decisions. Also, it isn't only the ideal (size 4!) that's relevant but also the way to get there (diet). In fact, the way is typically the question that's more immediate and thus more prominent on people's mind.

If one just asks people what they think is ideal, you're probing their ideas about what they believe the wealth distribution means, not necessarily what they actually want. To get to the relevant point, one would have to ask for factors that actually affect their life, or are such that they have some basis to judge on. Social mobility for example, the possibilities that are open for them and their children, is a relevant factor, and it is of course related to the wealth distribution. Or, instead of asking for the distribution of wealth, maybe better ask if they think somebody's work is really worth a 1000 times more than somebody else's. Another factor, and the one that bothers me most, is that wealth means power and it means influence. How much influence on your life do you want a small group of people to have? And at which point does this run into conflict with democratic decision making?

Bottomline: This is an interesting study. It explains a lot of things about the US American attitude towards their country's income distribution and the sometimes puzzling disconnect between their wish for change on the one hand and on the other hand their unwillingness to really take the necessary steps: they believe the steps are smaller than they in fact are. However, it's not a result that should have any relevance for policy decisions because the question asked is impractical. One doesn't chose a wealth distribution first and then gets randomly assigned a place in that society. It's not how things work in real life, and it's just replacing one dream with another one. There's always the risk the dream might later turn out to be a nightmare.

Aside: Dan Ariely, one of the authors of the study, writes a blog. He commented on his own paper here.


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  2. After reading your post as redirected from FB (but not the original article/s), I think you got the point across well. I'm glad you noted John Rawls and I agree with him even as you note, the question isn't practical. However I think it's a great way to judge the concept, to ask "what if ..." and take it from there. Lots of extreme actions and dislocations would be thereby avoided.

    BTW I think the current US wealth disparity is dangerous and hurtful to democracy as well as the well-being of most citizens. It is incredible to me that they keep electing so many Republicans, who seem to want to keep it that way. That the voters are so misguided about the actual facts is a large part of the explanation for that. Thanks for bringing this up.

  3. Thanks :-) I agree with you for what the danger for democracy is concerned. In fact, one has to ask how much it's already affecting the functioning of their democracy. Isn't it convenient if you want to preserve the status quo if people don't realize what conditions they live in, esp. in global comparison? Best,


  4. What this tells me is that Americans don’t understand the extent of disparity in the US, and that they (we) desire a more equitable society.
    ... Dan Ariely

    The only thing about the disparity that surprises this American is that the top 20% doesn't own more, but not to worry, with each Republican elected, the rich get richer.

    America's current version of Mark Twain and Will Rogers, that being Jon Stewart, sums up our economic situation sweetly on page 124 in his new tome: EARTH: The Book. In what follows, he's addressing the future aliens who will discover our extinct species:

    ADAM SMITH (1723-1790)
    For most of history we naively believed it was sometimes good to put our fellow man's well-being ahead of our own. Adam Smith called bullshit on that, showing that pursuing self-interest (free-market capitalism) was itself the highest form of altruism. Smith believed markets were guided by an "invisible hand" that scuttled around under people's beds waiting to rationally allocate resources. Governments should avoid trying to control this creepy hand, Smith said, as doing so would only make it mad.

    JOHN MAYNARD KEYNES (1883-1946)
    Keynes countered Smith, asserting that governments should correct a free market's occasional errant course by manipulating levels of public spending and interest rates, much as one might steer a Ferrari by alternately yanking and pushing two levers in the trunk. Keynesianism is credited with ending the Great depression, but in later decades faced opposition from the sorts of people whom the Great Depression didn't hurt anyway.

    KARL MARX (1818-1883)
    In Das Kapital (German for "The Kapital"), Karl Marx theorized that when a small group of property owners exploited a much larger number of workers, the workers would inevitably revolt, seize control of the means of production and build a proletarian communist paradise. This bold prediction remained on the verge of coming true for 140 years.

    CHARLES PONZI (1882-1949)
    Like his contemporary Albert Einstein, Charles Ponzi unlocked an explosive equation: belief = wealth. If enough investors believed a scheme would make money, it would. The trick was perpetually finding enough new investors to pay off the old ones, a figure Ponzi estimated at six times infinity. While Ponzi schemes inevitably failed, his revered principles were central to such successful 21st-century markets as real estate, tech stocks, and everything else.

  5. I'm not very surprised that people think the distribution is far more even than it actually is. In a more detailed "Alice is a lawyer, what do you think she makes?", "Bob fries burgers, what do you think he makes?"-style questionnaire Americans would probably make the differences far closer to reality than this.

    I'd put most weight on the observation that Americans so uniformly want the income differences to be significantly lower than they think they are. Completely regardless of earnings or Republican/Democrat leanings, they want the top quintile to earn half as much as they think they currently do and the bottom to earn many multiples more than currently.

    The idea of randomizing the respondent's place in society might play haywire with the results though. Social mobility is a big part of the American dream, but do people actually believe they could make it to higher income levels after starting low?

  6. Then again, which is better: Sweden's, or The Netherlands' ?

  7. 18% of Sweden's population has foreign origins (9% not being Scandinavians). The California Academic Performance Index says the average Los Angeles high school student has an 84 IQ. Imagine Sweden with 37% of its population being Black and Brown.

    "Sweden has five officially recognized minority languages: Sami, MeƤnkieli, Standard-Finnish, Romani chib, and Yiddish." Sweden is way smarter than Spain in 1491.

    78% of Swedes belong to the Lutheran Church of Sweden. Doc Martin knew a thing or two about running local franchises. Sweden is populated by people who work for their living. It shows.

  8. Correct me if I'm wrong, Al, but methinks you resemble one of Nordic ancestry. Truth?

    I have Nordic and Dutch (among many American mongrel heritages) blood, hence my question.

    And Spain in 1492 was way smarter than Spain in 1491, and way dumber too.

  9. Another question is whether Swedes prefer Swedish wealth distribution. Given the recent massive victory for the center-right alliance (the only reason they did not get majority is that the patriots/neo-nazis entered parliament), I would say that the days of the Pomperipossa effect (tax rates exceeding 100%) are over.

  10. Hi Lennart,

    I think they do indeed believe it. It's the story they all grow up with - if you only work hard enough you can make it. I think that believe is the prime reason many of them reject governmental support as "socialism" and mingling with individuality: if you believe the poor are poor because they don't work hard enough instead of having very limited chances no matter what they do, it's their own fault, so you shouldn't help them with other people's money. Compare that to what I'd say is the typical European attitude: the governmental, social, side of democracy is there to create an environment in which individuality flourishes, for if you have limited options it's an infringement of liberty rather than an expression of it.

    In any case, thing is Americans have at least in my impression distinctively different values than Europeans, so it's moot to ask which is the better way. What's better is not an objective question, but depends on what people regard important. So I'm curious to see where they are headed.

    You are right that the interesting piece of information is in the survey respondents regarding as ideal a wealth distribution more equal than the one they think they live in. If nothing else, it documents dissatisfaction with the status quo. Best,


  11. Hi Thomas,

    Yes :-) Somebody should ask them. I'm not sure though the issue at hand is the wealth distribution per se. In a global economy, everybody looks at everybody else - even if you're behind the veil of ignorance. Best,


  12. For what it's worth:

    (1) the US federal deficit QUADRUPLED during the Reagan/Bush I administration (remember supply-side rubbish, i.e., "voodoo economics"),

    (2) the deficit DOUBLED again during the Bush II administration,

    (3) the conservative's disasterous Iraq fiasco will have wasted about a TRILLION dollars and 100,000s of lives,

    (4) the conservative's "feed the insatiably wealthy" TAX CUTS will effectively add trillions of dollars to the deficit,

    (5) The ignorant conservatives drove the ship-of-state up onto the rocks less than 2 years ago, largely because of their benighted love of de-regulation and "free market" panaceas, not to mention their above-the-law and whatever-you-can-get-away-with brand of "morality".

    In spite of this dismal record, and virtual proof of incompetancy, a large number of the American people think it's a good idea to put the conservatives back at the helm.


    No need to answer that question.

    One can only stand in awe of the bizarre decision-making of the human species. Evidence-based? Not a chance!


  13. It is a very dismal record of where the US has gone and where it is going. Unlike you I have been extremely disappointed in Obama, though I voted for him enthusiastically. He seems to have been captured by the big business/wall street crowd. This seems clear from his completely anemic handling of the financial meltdown and by his picking of Geithner and Sommers as his top help. Just the simple idea that repeal Glass-Steagal in the 90's directly caused the growing power of the financial oligarchy seems to be lost on the populace. Though I'm a lifelong democrat the last 2 years have shown me that the democrats seem no better than the Bush fools. And that's completely ignoring the Afghanistan fiasco.

    The most important questions that need to be asked are buried in false dichotomies between bad outcomes and worse outcomes. I blame a lot of the false questions just on the simple fact that there is no longer a fairness doctrine mandated for television broadcasting. The whole spectrum of political discussion has been slanted by the huge success of the Fox Network.

    I live in a small town and you would be amazed at the rediculous ideas held by some people that come directly from Glen Beck and other idiots. These are long ago discredited ideas spread by the John Birch society. It seems that with the rise of Fox news even John Birch ideas are now mainstream. It is a very sick society and Obama is not helping one iota.

  14. Note, as some have at Ariely's blog: the question doesn't just ask "what is the ideal wealth distribution" but "what should it be if we followed Rawls' experiment" - not necessarily the same thing. But the perception of the actual WD was definitely false.

  15. "It turns out that these preferences depend only very little on demographic factors like gender or whether they voted for Bush or Kelly in 2004."

    I really enjoyed reading this. Just one small correction. It's "Kerry", not "Kelly".

    If we were having a competition to make the least relevant comment, I think I just won.

  16. One final thought.

    When the founding fathers created the US of A, they were not empty suits and chameleons whose primary focus was on getting re-elected and/or setting up their eventual revolving-door transition back to the private $ector.

    They were principled people who made a concerted effort to put personal and intellectual integrity above base self-interest.

    If those days are forever gone, and "big money" is going to assume ever-greater control of America's destiny, then the great experiment is going to end badly.

    I keep a bag packed.


  17. In response to some of the comments - when people behave seemingly irrationally, one should look for "system constraints", i.e., a context within which their actions are rational. It is these constraints that are the real problem.


    And yes, the world would be a better place if everyone read Bee's blog :)

  18. Hawks and Doves?

    What are Hawk and Dove in US politics?

    Not that this is the idea of focus here in the political arena but more toward the idea of Nash's equilibrium point as demonstrated by Maynard Smith.

    Vietnam war ended in 1975.

    In the preface to Evolution and the Theory of Games, Maynard Smith notes that “[p]aradoxically, it has turned out that game theory is more readily applied to biology than to the field of economic behaviour for which it was originally designed.” It is perhaps doubly paradoxical, then, that the subsequent development of evolutionary game theory has produced a theory which holds great promise for social scientists, and is as readily applied to the field of economic behaviour as that for which it was originally designed. Evolutionary Game Theory

    Far be it from me to point out such social behavior can be reduced to such point, that devoid of the emotive complexes of society and it's empathy, what better way to deal with such social construction then to see an equanimity underlying and exhibiting degrees of association in one bird form or another.

    Let's call it a bird planet?:)

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  20. John Maynard Smith

    So let's say Sweden represents one bird colony, and United States represents another.

    They have a certain sense of wealth distribution, so how would such distribution be seen in the way such figures are graphed as perspective of each country.

    How would this distribution look according to Hawks and Doves in each perspective country?

  21. Hi Mike,

    Oops. Thanks for letting me know, I fixed that typo. Best,


  22. Hi Arun,

    Do you mean the constraints are the problem, or the absence thereof? Not sure what you're aiming at. Best,


  23. Robert Oldershaw wrote:
    I keep a bag packed.

    I've had that thought myself, but ultimately rejected it. Where are you going to go? Canada, Australia, New Zealand? I hope you don't say England because I heard 55% of the male residents there say they'd rather live somewhere else. Hard to argue with the locals about their own place.

    Or we can stay and fight. Possibly literally with guns, but so what?
    Then there's the thing that America has become impossible to analyze. We're much more heterogeneous than ever, much more diverse. And there's lots of us, darn near a third of a billion, so somewhere here you can inevitably find someone with similar views, and probably not too far away.

  24. "I hope you don't say England because I heard 55% of the male residents there say they'd rather live somewhere else."

    *lol* And if asked for a reason, let me guess, they'd start complaining about the weather? If you'd ask Germans how many of them would rather live somewhere else, I wouldn't be surprised if most of them say they'd rather live in Spain or Italy just because Germans must be the global masters in complaining about their own country. And, oh yeah, I'm one of them. But after 7 years out of country, I think they should occasionally count their blessings... Best,


  25. Wow really Bee, about Germany? Don't you and England have the same love of order and efficiency, really clean streets with lovely gardens (just lovely in the UK)?

    I suppose that make sense that the Germans are in a bit of a flux, but I think we can chalk that up to merger of East Germany and West Germany; of farm and factory. That's a rather large paradigm shift socioeconomically, I can see it taking about 30 years to stabilize.

    You'll be fine ... with really nice gardens.

    However, all this talk of "Nations", which World History is rich with, is giving ground to that "new" entity, the Global Corporation (ExxonMobil being number 1).

    That's important. Five years ago, the 51 largest entities out of the top 100 were Nations, with the others being Globals. The trend in that study was clear, and it wasn't in the favor of Nations.

  26. If there is an innate disposition of people in differing nations, then a global perspective might show inherent features of development within that society that saw distribution perspectives as differing acceptance of that wealth distribution?

    It's just a thought?:)

    Ducks Know Game Theory

    After all, foraging for food is a lot like a game. In this case, the chunks of bread are the payoff. You want to get as much as you can. So do all the other ducks. As these were university ducks, they were no doubt aware that there is a Nash equilibrium point, an arrangement that gets every duck the most food possible when all the other ducks are also pursuing a maximum food-getting strategy.

    Knowing (or observing) the rate of tosses, you can calculate the equilibrium point using Nash’s math. In this case the calculation is pretty simple: The ducks all get their best possible deal if one-third of them stand in front of the slow tosser and the other two-thirds stand in front of the fast tosser.

    Once full, a roof over one's head and bills paid, there is a certain time that creativity allows itself to be nurtured, that dispositions based on wealth creation will reveal cultural developments throughout history that are demonstrative of artist correlations along side of scientific development?

    How much is to much and in times of scarcity what dominates. Is it food distribution based on a medial society that averages where? Housing costs that make dreams of a home possible. Jobs.

    Just thinking out loud.

  27. Last night I watched the first segment of the movie "Casino Jack", which is a movie about Jack Abramoff's "career" and the culture of "big money".

    It is fascinating to see the videos of Karl Rove, Rex Reed, Abramoff, Grover Norquist, etc. in their college heydays creating the Neoconservative movement, and then to see where they ended up in adulthood.

    All your favorites are there Reagan, Tom Delay, Newt Gingrich (Contract On America), Phil Gramm, Dick Armey, John Boehner, etc.

    The movie is a tour-de-force in exposing what has gone wrong in America. Everything is empirically documented in living color.

    If you are not too prone to depression, but rather take a more objective and clinical approach to utter corruption and immorality, hidden behind a facade of flag-waving and religion, then I give this movie my highest rating.

    One should obviously remember that the other side of the aisle has its own sins to atone for, which are many and "locally" virually as bad, but perhaps not as "globally" organized and demagogic.

    In "Casino Jack" the bleak situation, which a majority of Americans appear to be totally clueless about, is laid out for all to see in 2 hours.


  28. @Steven Colyer: According to GeneTree, Uncle Al's ancestry is 2% African, 11% East Asian, and the balance Northern European (+/- 3%). 23andMe shows SOP Ashkenazic haplotypes.

    The maternal side apparantly had trade with Mongol hordes touring Eastern Europe. His bright blue eyes were thrown in gratis by the dealership.

    Evolution is sherry and giggles if you are one of the survivors. Support evolution - shoot back.

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  31. Hi Bee,

    Indeed a very enlightening study you’ve highlighted here, which addresses some issues I’ve long been interested in. There being first what I would call the superficial observations to be made, such as how far off the people’s perceptions of themselves are as opposed to what presents as being the facts and yet the accounting for these is not so easily understood. However for me, the first thing needing to be examined is the premise itself, which is to ask, what exactly a distribution of wealth is and actually what significance does it hold, as it relates to the human condition. That is I understand the definition given and yet I would argue that the idea of ownership being a very abstract thing to begin with.

    I’m reminded of what my first employer said when I asked him, as to what made him want to start and then struggle to grow a business; which invoked a smile from him as thinking it a good question and yet one he was not often asked. He said he realized many people confuse such ambitions as to have them almost entirely connected with greed, while (at least at the time) most so motivated found it more important that they were creating something and then working to have it grow. He reminded that in the end, there are only so many steaks one can consume, cars one can drive, vacations one can take or other things that one can enjoy which can be provided as a direct result of such endeavour; being the saturation point for such things made available at levels of business success that don’t account for how large many would have their businesses to grow. He said if fortunate enough to be successful one quickly gets to the point where one find themselves as more of a caretaker, that is as a opposed to being simply a taker, where the health of the business becomes more of a holistic concern, rather than being something solely connected with self. Anyway I think I’ve said enough in such regard, which is to simply have emphasised there being a difference between what most people see just as possessing wealth, to what it actually being, which is the control and direction of wealth.

    So to continue, if considered in such regard, I’m not surprised by the numbers, resultant of those surveyed perceptions being largely influenced by what many if not all of them are able to find that they share in or have ready access to. That is things which in a large part represent being the infrastructure that has been created both by private enterprise and government. That’s to say that all directly benefit from so many things which wouldn’t fall into the narrow definition given in the survey and yet them costing fortunes and requiring great effort to create.

    So what I find to be more significant is in asking how many of us are actually more interested in what wealth can provide simply for ourselves and how many interested in what it can provide with seeking the responsible control and direction of it, in an effort to have it to grow, not just for the benefit of ourselves yet for many. That is from my own personal perspective I find much of our current troubles are rooted in having more and more people being primarily concerned with the former, while fewer and fewer finding they are able to care about the latter.



  32. Hi Phil,

    As a matter "of opinion" about economy, it has already such "equanimity built into it" that it is not moved in empathy one way or another? :)

    By demonstrative comparisonsPsychohistory I thought that if one indeed read Adam Smith's take on Moral Sentiments, this was somehow a precursor to tackling an "in the process of making" an automaton robot "by production" that we might have called it by name, "Economy?"

    Of course, we are all gifted with opinion.

    I do not know if such an robot can be imbued with our emphatic feelings to such speculation demonstrated that such morals were developed from developing robots first, or whether "such programing" had to take place first?:)


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  34. Well, Plato old pal, Asimov's Psychohistory is a work in progress, a field in its infancy, a field that most likely will not be developed even close to fully in our lifetime, and to paraphrase Chris Oakley, "Why the bleep are you working on it then?"

    I understand Oakley's sentiment, I used it to drop out of studying nuclear fusion power plants (where the physics is a done deal but the engineering is 40 to 90 years away, thanks to the scarcity of tritium, and other reasons). But in the romantic sense, there is nothing wrong with working on being a present giant upon whose shoulders a future Gauss and Einstein will build on.

    In any event, we live in times where Pyschohistory's beginnings are evident: the field of Evolutionary Psychology, which should be called Evolutionary Anthropology, but fewer journalists know what Anthropology means than Psychology, so we're stuck with that expression. Shrug.

    Economics is for the birds now, Plato, not Microeconomics so much but rather Macroeconomics. All the PhD's in Physics and Mathematics given sweet salaries by the likes of Bear Sterns and BoA and AIG and Goldman Sachs and the like to write bullcrap promoting whatever Ponzi-esque paper are simply being used by those companies' marketing departments, and to no good end, except for the shareholders! What a shameful waste of fine brains.

    Off-topic, sorry: Bee, the next and 3rd annual FQXI essay challenge is up. Any plans to enter? You won 2nd place last year, we hope you give it a shot this time around as well. I'd vote for "discrete" over "continuous", but we'll see.

  35. Oops, I meant "digital" and "analog" over "discrete" and "continuous", sorry, but really, what's the difference?

    Click here for George Musser's of Scientific American's announcement of the FQXI essay, seeing as how Sci Am is involved now, and ...

    Click here for Peter Woit's one-day belated (paragraph 3) announcement of same.

    And definitely read the replies to Woit. That's half the pleasure of reading Not Even Wrong.

  36. Someone once said they did not understand why I thought our understanding of galaxies was primitive and childlike.

    I belatedly introduce into evidence the following.

    When the boffins find out what is really at the center of this bipolar galactic "pilot light", they are going to be dumbfounded. Of course that is nothing new.


  37. Robert: In case your comment was addressed at me, we were talking about structure formation if I recall correctly. Best,


  38. Hi Plato,

    It is interesting that you use the term empathy as opposed to sympathy, with the latter being the one Adam Smith would find as being the motivator for what I described. I would ask then, which term should we associate with the current actions of those such as Warren Buffet or Bill Gates . That is being what for me distinguishes between the two terms is the former has one finding themselves superior to those they extend their assistance, while latter as a result of finding themselves fundamentally being more or less the same. That is for me this study reinforces the latter being true, as serving to be the explanation of gulf between what the facts are and what our perceptions being.



  39. Hi Phil,

    As I move through the knowledge of the times, I am equally dumfonded by what I am finding, so I do not reject the need for seeing what "neurological foundations" might have appeared in human beings, to see that such advances may have been formed in biologic systems for such expansion as economics.

    That said, around this, while there are troubling attempts to adapt experience to such conditions, on the one hand economists would have one believe that we do not need to interfere with the economy as it can take care of itself?

    On a biological level then such expression then can be defined to equitable mathematics as lets say, "The Hawk-Dove game is arguably his single most influential game theoretical model.# 1.4 Evolution and the Theory of Games"

    That such a equatorial basis can be moved to political condemnation as to be divisive in society goes to show how far this equatorial understanding has been lead by Nash's Equilibrium.

    I digress then back to your point about choice of words with regard to empathy but sympathy being the correct choice of words as you show.

    Emotively, how do you measure "self preservation of economy" once having attain a sense of security by the process of being hungry, and having never enough to feed?


  40. Hi Steve,

    Economics is for the birds now, Plato, not Microeconomics so much but rather Macroeconomics.

    On the surface how is such divisiveness in appearance "as a political system(Hawks and Doves), that such a division could have found itself expressed all the way down to perspectives on consumerism and choices made that again could explode on a national level.

    Hari Seldon on 25 billion planets and why focus on Trantor? He might have called them birds as nations, but game theory was looking for some commonality of expression and this may have arrived from a feeding time?

    All the PhD's in Physics and Mathematics given sweet salaries by the likes of Bear Sterns and BoA and AIG and Goldman Sachs and the like to write bullcrap promoting whatever Ponzi-esque paper are simply being used by those companies' marketing departments, and to no good end, except for the shareholders! What a shameful waste of fine brains.

    I understand it is about jobs and I am sure that given a choice those of the trade would rather work in the areas that they spent years studying then working outside of it.

    Business, recognizes the mathematics that is needed and where to find the most and highly trained for that advancement. In terms of the areas of niche markets perspectives as a condition of that society by training and responsibility of action are preferable according to science in progress?

    They(business) have a lot to choose from? Can be flexible on wages because of the amount to choose from(either way)? Market conditions do apply?:)


  41. Bee,

    To be perfectly candid I do not think astrophysicists have a clue about how galaxies form, what their physics is once they have formed, or their role in nature's discrete hierarchy.

    When I say that our understanding of galactic scale phenomena is primitive and childish, that, and all of that, is what I am referring to.

    Hint: Thing at center of the 50,000 light-year bipolar "pilot light" is NOT a black hole. Now what else could it be? I think there is probably one of these at the center of every galaxy and every globular cluster in the Universe.


  42. Back on topic: Rural Americans are very naive, Bee. They're experts at milking a cow and the 5 million other details of running a farm. They're good, solid people, and their local politics are outstanding. But they make the mistake of thinking that federal politics is as honest as theirs, a view backed up by their preachers, who blame the Democrats for all of America's ills and so they vote Republican. The current crop of Republicans spread disinformation like the farmers spread manure, with a similar smell. Chief among their lies is that we're "the greatest country in the world", which we're not (New Zealand is). We have the potential to be, but won't at this rate. Downsizing, part-time jobs, six sigma, and the exporting of jobs overseas are all great for the bottom line, all hurt this country, and the Republicans worship them all. Why any rational person would vote Republican these days is beyond. Perhaps voting should be amended to require a minimum IQ.

    Back off-topic: Plato, I do not blame the "quants" for Wall Street's downfall, I blame the Reagan and Clinton administrations for de-regulating banking. Were he alive today and saw this mess, Adam Smith would be all for regulation, at least some.

    Robert, what PROOF do you have that the objects at the center of galaxies are NOT black holes? That's a pretty bold statement. Btw, click here and read about the criticism of Scale Relativity.

    Back to Astronomy. It is the youngest of the 3 hard sciences, so naturally one would expect much disagreement, and also the data from Planck and WISE are coming in fast and furious, so we'll know more soon.

    But that's not important. THIS is:

    U.S. Representative John Shimkus, possible future chairman of the Congressional committee that deals with energy and its attendant environmental concerns, believes that climate change should not concern us since God has already promised not to destroy the Earth.

    Wow, do you have a numbered Swiss Bank account courtesy of ExxonMobil much, Shimkus, you capitalist tool? No wonder the rest of the world hates us. Oh, to be in Canada, tied with Japan as the most respected country in the world (the survivors of the Bataan March and the Rape of Nanking excluded, natch).

  43. Hi Kris,

    The page you linked to asks me to pay to read it, which I can't afford to. If it's not too much trouble, could you cut'n'paste? I shouldn't think Bee and Stefan should worry about being taken to the World Court in The Hague by the New York Times.

  44. You know, I don't think the U.S citizens are really that different, as a group, than other countries citizens. That is, I don't think there is less critical thinking going on here than elsewhere. I think the majority of people in most countries don't have a surfeit of common sense. But what they do have is institutionilized methods for good information to be disseminated for public policy. We have had the handicap of being very powerful in the past and letting it go to our heads - the concept of American Exceptionalism is pernicious and should be thoroughly stamped out. It allowed us to forget that most people can't figure out when they aren't getting good information and relaxing the channels that regulated that flow of good information.

    On a seperate note. Talking about galaxies, I haven't read anything on the latest update at the center of galaxies. I do know this: physics is heading towards a new version of invariance for spacetime. Whereas the old version related time and space being invariant with relation to gravitational fields defined by little 'g'. For instance the mass of earth, as one example. The flow rate of time changes in the gravitational field of Earth and allows the metric to be invariant as one moves within the gravitational field of Earth.

    The new invariance that is emerging is that spacetime is also invariant with changes of big 'G'. Just as time slows down in a gravitational field we are moving to a thought process in which time also slows down as the universe expands and big G increases. This coincides with the lowering of perceived temperature for the universe as a whole. Because time has slowed down enormously today the average galactic cross section at the time of formation is the same as the formation of nucleons at higher temperatures and smaller G. The measurement of time is all that has changed in those billions of years. It also accounts for the feeble accelerating expansion of the universe compared to the faster than light inflation at the dawn of the universe.

    In other I'm positive that space and time will again be reunited in an invariant ways once it is accepted that the "average" flow of time changes dramatically as the universe expands and big 'G' get larger.

  45. Hi Steven,

    My New York Times subscription was free. Sure you have to pay? The article is over the 4,096 character limit, but here are a few paragraphs:

    Our Banana Republic
    Published: November 6, 2010

    In my reporting, I regularly travel to banana republics notorious for their inequality. In some of these plutocracies, the richest 1 percent of the population gobbles up 20 percent of the national pie.

    But guess what? You no longer need to travel to distant and dangerous countries to observe such rapacious inequality. We now have it right here at home — and in the aftermath of Tuesday’s election, it may get worse.

    The richest 1 percent of Americans now take home almost 24 percent of income, up from almost 9 percent in 1976. As Timothy Noah of Slate noted in an excellent series on inequality, the United States now arguably has a more unequal distribution of wealth than traditional banana republics like Nicaragua, Venezuela and Guyana.

    C.E.O.’s of the largest American companies earned an average of 42 times as much as the average worker in 1980, but 531 times as much in 2001. Perhaps the most astounding statistic is this: From 1980 to 2005, more than four-fifths of the total increase in American incomes went to the richest 1 percent...

  46. Thanks Kris, and don't worry about it. ALL publications are starving these days, thanks to the Internet. I have no problem with the Times asking me for $$$, as desperate times call for desperate measures. E.g., US News and World Report just announced they're folding, and they are ... umm ... were the 3rd largest American newsweekly. Can Newsweek and Time magazine be far behind?

    Perhaps the most astounding statistic is this: From 1980 to 2005, more than four-fifths of the total increase in American incomes went to the richest 1 percent...

    Interesting, thanks. Well, Reagan/BUSH were elected in 1980, and BUSH Junior Inc. was well-entrenched by '05, so it doesn't surprise me, any more than a cold shower should surprise.

    Listen, I don't hate Republicans, in fact I think Abe Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt, both Republicans, were our best presidents along with the first 6 ones.

    But while we were sleeping/road tripping on spring break to Daytona and Ft. Lauderdale, wherever, the far right wing of the Republican party took it over. They recruited Rupert the Anti-Christ Murdoch from Australia, which is good for Australia that they got rid of him, but bad for America.

    These people have only two goals, neither of which is good for Science, or anyone else:
    1) Keep the inherited money you have minus that which you snorted through your nose, and
    2) Make more money using the money you inherited, and if the taxpaying middle class has to be sacrificed to make it, then so what? It's harvest time! SCREW THEM that they weren't manifest destinied born to wealth like we were!

    The French Revolution happened for a reason. Off with their multi-generationed bimbo-produced heads.

    Have a nice day. :-)

  47. Off topic:

    From a outside perspective on America politics...would Republican considered to be Hawks and Democrats

    Has game theory really expanded too, the political portrayals of birds?:)

    On topic: Is wealth thought of in the same way?


  48. Hi Robert,

    There are open questions regarding the astrophysical processes of galaxy formation. It is one of your usual self-serving exaggerations to say "astrophysicists don't have a clue." If there was nothing left to explain, why would we still do physics? Best,


  49. Hi Plato,

    I haven’t seen with what you said as answering my question, being if the acts of those like Warren Buffett and Bill Gates are ones motivated by sympathy or empathy? None the less in respect to the question I find them to be acts of empathy, rather than sympathy, which are counter to Adam’s Smith’s philosophy and vision. In fact if you examine the video I linked to, you will actually find Melinda Gates (at 22:50) make reference to Adam Smith, suggesting his vision was distorted as to be incorrect, respective of the nature of humanity by the limits of perception imposed on him by his place in time.

    In the case of Warren Buffet you will find him stating everything him having should and will go back to society (at 1:06), as if it was never considered his to begin with, yet rather only under his temporary control. Later on (at 12:25) he discusses what I was talking about earlier, with him making the point where for him wealth is not equated so much with what one has, yet rather what relevance it having in the creation, control, direction and growth of things in a responsibly purposeful and productive manner. In yet another interview with Buffett I watched a few years back, he talked about wanting to help those who in life drew the “short straws”, not in the sense of them being inferior, yet rather in them not being as fortunate, in terms of circumstance as him, more resultant of chance than anything else. So in short I don’t find Smith’s philosophy regarding the human condition as being correct, as having observed that empathy rather the sympathy to describe correctly the direction it’s driven respective of its greater potential, with that in it having the capacity for love.

    The bottom line for me is not being so much concerned with how wealth is distributed, respective of the narrow definition given in the study Bee has outlined here. That is finding the first concern should be what has people desiring to be wealthy, by discovering what such wealth has created and most importantly their intentions for it being as they move forward. That is I’m more concerned with its responsible and compassionate use, in regards as who make such decisions, respective of the most effect mechanism(s) used and the level of understanding it’s based upon.

    More simply, I find that despite many today looking to increase as to have made more equitable their own and others wealth, few recognizing the motive of responsibility innately required for having them being capable to have it best directed for good, with first having it necessarily measured in terms of its quality, rather than only its quantity. So in analogy, I would say this study has us only to know that although many recognize Sweden in its beauty, few manage to see its truth, as having them then able to discover what about it be the good.



  50. Hi Steven,

    You said: “U.S. Representative John Shimkus, possible future chairman of the Congressional committee that deals with energy and its attendant environmental concerns, believes that climate change should not concern us since God has already promised not to destroy the Earth. “

    Despite everything else he still seems to be an excellent politician, as in scripture the earth is not destined to be destroyed, yet rather only its inhabitants. That’s to still have it as the people’s responsibility to discover the truth, with the aid of seeking and acquiring some minimum level of understanding for themselves.

    Oh yes regarding your wish you be found in Canada, I would advise you reserve judgement on that, as our dollar now having reached parity and threatening in future to rise above your own. Then again, if it being equality you’re seeking this indeed might serve to have it better realized, as what could be more equitable and easily achieved as to have no one with wealth; that is as the old adage suggesting misery liking company:-)



  51. Phil:I haven’t seen with what you said as answering my question, being if the acts of those like Warren Buffett and Bill Gates are ones motivated by sympathy or empathy?

    Plato:I digress then back to your point about choice of words with regard to empathy but sympathy being the correct choice of words as you show.

    I was speaking to the "choice of words" in context of Adam Smith. Many economist refer too, "Wealth of Nations" as a scholarly presentation of what the economy is about(?), without the Moral Sentiments in context of that analysis, as recognizing the human condition.

    Earlier I wrote....

    I do not know if such an robot can be imbued with our emphatic feelings to such speculation demonstrated that such morals were developed from developing robots first, or whether "such programing" had to take place first?:)

    This referred too, the writing of Moral Sentiments versus Wealth of Nations, while Robotic in Wealth of Nations, the programming (Moral Sentiments) referred too, the software.

    I did not look at the interview, as I thought to show the differences, while an Economist, may say there is no connection between the two writings?

    Your point about giving and supporting does not change the economy by perspective "of the act" but it may change dynamics of outcome by such contributions.

    As we are both aware of Larzardis, I think the outcome a very good probable future in , yet, I do not think it changes the economy, you see? What do you think?


  52. Hi Phil,

    As I am still on peasant internet speeds, I will download at a faster speed when the opportunity arises.

    Thanks for pointing this out.


  53. Bee: "If there was nothing left to explain, why would we still do physics?"

    Here we are definitely on the same page. There is much left to learn:

    (see new dark matter maps at ),

    (and be sure to see the latest negative result in the 30-year succession of negative results for "WIMPs", ).

    So my goal is to urge people to keep an open mind and question all inadequately tested assumptions, especialy those you think you cannot live without.


  54. Hi Plato,

    I think that whatever system is developed to be called an economy that if it lacks the motivation(s) resultant of passion it is then destined to fail, for then it truly would be only a robot as to be limited entirely by the potential of its programming. That is I find their being a difference between things which can be reasoned and those that act resultant of having reason.



  55. Thinking of practical ways to improve the economic climate in the USA, would this work?

    Say you threw out all previous tax laws and replaced the 100-ton pile of complexities and loop-holes with the following new tax law.

    "All entities, and that means individuals, corporations, non-profits, NGOs, churches, whatever, will be taxed at X% on all of their income taken in during the past year. There are no exemptions, loop-holes, offshore hiding places. You must report all income and pay X% of that so that the country an function properly. Violations will be penalized as follows: 1st offense = 2X owed, 2nd offense 4X owed, ... "

    Would this form of a "Flat Tax" work if one could really remove ALL the exemptions, loop-holes and tax evasions?

    If so could X be determined in advance or should that be determined after the country's yearly debts are toted up?


  56. Robert, your problem is you make too much sense. Heck yeah a flat tax is the way to go! Bill Bradley ran once on a platform of a 17% tax rate, no exceptions (or in legalese: no exemptions).

    The problem is, we have this hangover from the British Parliament known as the US Senate, clearly the most worthless (yet unfortunately powerful) legislature since the Roman Senate before Lucius Sulla Felix said "Enough!" and took over the Roman Republic.

    And the US Senate would NEVER let that go through. THAT'S the problem, Robert! The people who make tons of money from those loopholes would never let it pass, via payola, even if the US House of Representatives woke up.

    Good idea though, thanks.

    I was reading an old copy of New Yorker magazine last night about The History of Jewish-American Comedy, which reminded me of a great man I'd forgotten: Mort Sahl.

    They point out correctly, that America's current top comedian, Jon Stewart, is in fact a current version of Mort, THE Intellectual's comedian of the 1950's and 1960's. And the joke by him they use to point that out is no less true today than it was 50 years ago, to whit:

    "Liberals feel unworthy of their possessions. Conservatives feel they deserve everything they've stolen."

    Your honors, the defense rests.

  57. Hi Steven,

    Better still as the government being the entity to create and issue all the money, why is it necessary to be taxed at all; that is at least directly? That is if it spent what’s required without collecting anything the value and the quantity of wealth would be determined in the balance. Of course this would demand, as to require, a level of transparency and accountability that no government, inclusive of its extensions of bureaucracy and public servants has been thus far been able to achieve, let alone wish to. However I find it nice to imagine a country where its government by virtue of its structure guiding its purpose is then forced to be more concerned respectful to the wealth, freedoms,and peaceful existance of its people as having it being the only way to assure its continuance.

    ”We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

    - THE UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION- September 17, 1787

    Such a good place from which to begin, the only problem being of course is how one decides as who be the people.



  58. IN CONGRESS, JULY 4, 1776
    The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America

    When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

  59. This comment has been removed by the author.

  60. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

    And that's the more important of the two documents, Phil, for it was THAT document that re-established Athenian democracy, 2000 years after Athens screwed up by defending a colony of a colony of Corinth's against said original Corinthian colony, which in response Corinth and Sparta teamed up and kicked Athens' ass, thus killing democracy for the next 2000 years, which came back, not just because of America and Tom Jefferson and crankypuss John Adams and the wit of ages Ben Franklin, but also the Humanism of the Renaissance, and the Human Enlightenment of John Locke and Voltaire, and many others.

    It was probably the most important war in Western History, to date, it was called the Peloponnesian War.

    Athens, the most powerful city-state of its time, apparently, hadn't studied how the all powerful Assyrian Empire died at the hands of #2 Chaldea and #3 Medes teaming up, in Nineveh (the Roma/Karakorum/NYC of its day), a mere 300 years before.

    And it can happen again.

  61. Impertinent Question: Is Glen Beck insane?

    Answer: No. As he candidly admits: "I am just a rodeo clown".

    The psychopaths are those in his very large audience who view him as a deep thinker and prophet. A dangerous group with a mob mentality.

    The only profits are in Fox's pocket. (;-)>

  62. Glenn Beck is a tool, like Hannity and Limbaugh, and yah the dimbulbs (his target audience) who eat his stuff up have alas made him the 2nd most listened-to person on American TV after Oprah Winfrey.

    Were you referring to this opinion article by Michael Wolraich, Robert?

    Aren't you glad we live in the Northeast, Robert? In the US South it would be socially unacceptable not to like him.

  63. Steve: "Were you referring to this opinion article by Michael Wolraich, Robert?"

    Yes, it was Beck's channeling of the demented Lyndon LaRouche and his anti-Soros demagogery and paranoia that set me off. This time Beck has gone way too far, in my opinion. He should be fired from any reputable organization. But of course, ...


  64. I agree with your sentiments, Robert, however as you know we have this "freedom of speech" thing here in the US of A, at least currently. If the rubes are stupid enough to believe it, and vote for the party that took 21 million American jobs and whittled them down to 14 million, then they will reap what they sowed. Unfortunately, the rest of us are "reaped" as well.

    Again, with what Beck said, beginning with "shadow government," and the rest of the things in the article: these are the very SAME things the far right has been accused of! They've just turned it around at shot it at the opposition. This is why I think Karl Rove should be imprisoned. Anyone who hasn't seen the documentary film "Bush's Brain", which is all about Rove and his deviousness, is denying themselves a swift reality check.

    Back on topic: These rubes think we live in a better world economically than we do, because they're TOLD by the preachers and such as Beck that we do. It's not hard to affect the opinions of the masses. It's basic Organizational Psychology. Fox News makes it easy. Cognitive Dissonance, lying to oneself, rationalization; its all the same, and easy to manipulate.

    For Robert and only Robert: Got two new cosmological fractals in my feed this morning, Robert: click here and here to see them.


  65. Hi Steve,

    Thanks for the links.

    These general ideas for a completely new paradigm for understanding nature are turning up more frequently and in more places.

  66. Steven, I read the links you just posted and found them very interesting. I hope I'm not on your shit list for having read them :-)

    What an incredibly interesting time to be alive. I can't help but be brought back to the image of the Star Baby in 2001. It seems to be quite prophetic and year by year seems more literal and less metaphoric. It hearkens back to Einstein's premise that if forced to chose between truth and beauty, then go with beauty. I hope I haven't mangled that philosophy too much. I can't quite think of a more absolutely beautiful turn for physics to be taking. Robert, I'm sure you would agree.

  67. Richard Feynman said:

    "The next great awakening of the human intellect may well produce a method of understanding the qualitative content of the equations."

    I believe that we are on the verge of such an "awakening", and the image of the "Star Child" from the movie "2001" is a nice poetic metaphor for this awakening. A key advance in the awakening will be a transition from a focus on how nature appears to us to a focus on how nature actually works independent of our observational limitations. Nature will show us the path to the unified understanding that Einstein dreamed of. Some have already been priviledged to see a short way down this path.


  68. Good quote and agree completely.

    Eric Habegger

  69. Today NASA is holding a news conference to announce the discovery of a "young" black hole that has emerged when the outer layers of the star were blown away in a supernova.

    Actualy the ultracompact nuclear object existed inside the star for billions of years, and in fact was the main cause for the formation of the star in the first place.

    Every star in the Universe has an ultracompact nuclear object at its center.

    Quick back-of-the-envelope TEST:

    The average central ultracompact nuclear object will have a surface magnetic field of about 10^12 Gauss. The Sun's primary surface is about a factor of 10^6 farther radially from the nuclear surface. Therefore the Sun's magnetic field should be 1/R^2 lower, or about 1 Gauss.

    Actually the surface field of the Sun is about 2 Gauss. Close enough for a back-of-the-envelope estimate.

    Anyone ready to awaken from the long, dreary slumber?


  70. Sigh, I guess not.

    But consider this. M-dwarf radii are on average about 10^1.5 times smaller than the Sun's. Therefore their B fields should be roughly 10^3 times larger.

    And guess what a typical surface B field of an M-dwarf is. Right, about 10^3 G. Totally unexplained by conventional astrophysics, of course, except by hand-waving.

    I can explain how stars form and why they have the B fields that are observed. But apparently no one gives a damn.

    Am I here all alone?



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