The Evolution of Everything

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Borodin was an amateur. So was Charles Ives. Bobby Jones was an amateur. Bill Tilden was an amateur, at least until he was 37 or 38. Wallace Stevens and Emily Dickinson were amateurs. According to Publisher’s Weekly, so is Mark Sumner.

Sumner is the author of the book The Evolution of Everything: How Selection Shapes Culture, Commerce, and Nature. It is difficult to classify this book, but if I had to do so, I would say that it not only tells the history of natural selection in biology but also relates it to business and commerce. And it does so in an interesting, compelling way: Even though I thought I knew something about the contents of many of the chapters, Sumner managed to introduce some tidbit, some wrinkle that I did not know into virtually every discussion.

The book presents a very readable history of the theory of evolution, beginning long before its conception as a fully fledged theory, passing through Darwin’s and Wallace’s theories and Mendel’s laws, and on to the modern synthesis and punctuated equilibrium. Sumner is especially hard on Spencer’s social Darwinism, Galton’s eugenics, and Haeckel’s racism, and he makes very clear that these are not consequences of Darwin’s ideas but rather perversions. Social Darwinism, for example, has nothing to do with Darwin and was no more than a device to justify the class structure or social order as it existed at the time; the rich and powerful were rich and powerful because they deserved to be rich and powerful. No such conclusion can reasonably be justified by natural selection, which is entirely descriptive and not at all prescriptive. Indeed, social Darwinism or its equivalent long predates Darwin himself; it was merely the most recent successor to the divine right of kings.

Francis Galton, who was a cousin to Darwin and an important mathematician, took social Darwinism one step further and advocated human breeding by artificial selection. Sumner details how his eugenics led to atrocities such as forced sterilization of people perceived to be mentally handicapped. According to Sumner, Keynes, Wells, Shaw, Churchill, and Woodrow Wilson were all taken in by eugenics. As he says, those in power “were not just richer than the people who work for them—they were better. Genuinely superior right down to every cell of their bodies.” Sumner is correct, however, in his assertion that the eugenicists (not to mention the Nazis) have it exactly wrong; a failure to interbreed leads to weaker stock, not stronger. He deftly uses the banana to make his point: for the first half of the 20th century, there was primarily one kind of commercial banana, the gros Michel. Commercial bananas had virtually no genetic diversity and the gros Michels were wiped out by a fungus infection. It took years to replace them with the Cavendish banana, which is the major commercial banana sold today. The Cavendish is now threatened by a similar fungus. I could not help wondering what Ray Comfort would have made of this chapter.

Sumner is on somewhat shakier ground when he tries to apply natural selection to manufacturing and commerce. In a chapter that is concerned with the (biological) horse, he also discusses the Ford Mustang. The Mustang, he says, was not especially fast, not especially sporty. But it was attractive and inexpensive and evidently filled a niche. Whereas Ford’s marketing department predicted sales of 100,000 Mustangs in its first year of production, in fact the company sold 1 million in the first year and a half. The car speciated and grew larger for several years, just like biological organisms. Then came the oil embargo in 1973, and many of the Mustang’s competitors disappeared. The Mustang, however, had speciated only months before, this time to a smaller, snazzier model. Of all the “pony cars,” as Sumner dubs them, only the Mustang survived. Sumner likens the survival of the Mustang to the survival of the real horse, the genus Equus, both of which simply happened to have the right stuff to survive when their respective ecologies changed.

The story of the Mustang is a good yarn, and it is one of many. I suspect Sumner’s interpretation is correct, and I hope that he can help to inject a little selectionism into economics. But his work will be criticized in much the same way as sociobiology is criticized: it is easy to make up stories but hard to gather evidence to support them. Indeed, his claim that the Honda Insight and the Toyota Prius are examples of convergent evolution would be more convincing if the designers of the Insight had never seen a Prius, or for that matter if the designers of the Prius had never seen the old 2-seater Insight. Nevertheless, Sumner’s stories have a ring of truth to them, and it seems to me that a large number of detailed, carefully constructed stories may be considered to have explanatory power (provided that you could not construct the opposite story if the opposite had happened). But then, I suspect that if I were a biologist, I would be considered an extreme adaptationist.

The last chapter in the book was one of the more interesting. Here Sumner examines a headline that says that, according to a Gallup poll, 4 in 10 people believe in evolution. The headline is presumably correct, but what is omitted is that 4 in 10 (39 %, in fact) was a plurality, and only 25 % disbelieved in evolution. The other 36 % had no opinion. Sumner says that the headline should have stated that only 1 in 4 does not believe in evolution. And, in case you thought that decisions about scientific matters were made on an intellectual level, Sumner describes a poll question of his own: “Do you believe that America and Africa were once part of the same continent?” Guess what? 50 % of people in the Northeast answered yes and 32 % in the South, with intermediate numbers in the Midwest and West. Those who answered “not sure” were about constant at 31-33 % across all regions.

One thing I did not like about this splendid book: It is an anthology, and I think all of the chapters were originally published as essays or blog entries in the Daily Kos. They all have the same formula: start with an anecdote, don’t tell where you are going, proceed with your main point, then conclude by in effect finishing the anecdote. The formula may work on isolated blog entries, especially if the other reporters do not constantly use that formula, but by the time I got halfway through the book, I was tired of it and kept gnashing my teeth and exclaiming, “Tell your readers where you are going!”

With that, I return to the anecdote with which I began this essay. I do not believe that Publisher’s Weekly was being complimentary when it called Sumner an amateur. All I can say in response is, I should be such an amateur.

Full disclosure: I saw a prepublication copy of this book and wrote a blurb for the back cover. Mr. Sumner very kindly reviewed my book in the Daily Kos.

79 Comments

Matt,

Sumner isn’t the first to draw parallels between Natural Selection in biology and Natural Selection in human endeavors. Thought Michael Shermer was on firm ground with regards to economics within his book “Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design”, especially in noting how Adam Smith’s concept of free market economics led Darwin to think of an economy of nature.

Sincerely,

John

They all have the same formula: start with an anecdote, don’t tell where you are going, proceed with your main point, then conclude by in effect finishing the anecdote.

James Burke’s series Connections had a somewhat similar formula that used the twists and turns of history to trace the paths of inventions.

Indeed, his claim that the Honda Insight and the Toyota Prius are examples of convergent evolution would be more convincing if the designers of the Insight had never seen a Prius, or for that matter if the designers of the Prius had never seen the old 2-seater Insight.

In fact, the “metaphorical convergent evolution” of the Honda Insight and the Toyota Prius is much to be expected even if the development teams had never seen each others’ progress.

As anyone who has worked in research and development - whether in industry or in government labs or in academic labs – knows, if you are working on the next generation stuff, you know pretty much the foundations of what everyone else knows and is doing also. There is feverish competition and scrambling for patents and priority.

The fundamental ideas are “in the air” and underlying principles are known and being exploited. Everything from aerodynamic shape, to drive trains, to dynamic braking, to batteries, to transmissions and switchovers between power sources are being developed and tested.

I think such would be the case in the development of new industries and marketing strategies. From a fundamental perspective of the needs of a growing society, energy sources, marketing and distribution chains, the next “hot new item”, and so on are all known, being sought after, and being competed for. So there is general knowledge among those who are aware and competing about what needs to be done.

It is very rare that something successful and unexpected just comes out of nowhere. Even top secret “Skunk Works” projects are suspected and their broad sketches known about by others doing the same kinds of work. After all, they often compete for the same contracts.

I thought Social Darwinism was condemned by most people, even supporters of evolution. It is based on the naturalistic fallacy, that what we see in nature must be the way we must live.

John Kwok,

this is the same Adam smith whose ideas of the free market are being discredited daily?

The use of metaphors:( ‘Mustang small - environment, oil cheap - adaptation, increase car size; environment change, oil expensive - adaptation, decrease car size,) are always fraught with danger. Biology and economics do bare similarities but so do all systems; inputs, tranformations, outputs, feedback. The book may be great, but I loath metaphor and allegory, ever since christians started using them in arguments from, ‘increduility’.

Let’s stick to the facts and let ID’ists make the, “take the complexity of the eye” arguments.

robert, try reading Adam Smith sometime and see what he really said. Or better yet, read Matt Ridley’s lates, “The Rational Optimist” and see what Smith’s idea of specialization and trade has brought us.

Don’t confuse Republicanism and neo-conservativism with Adam Smith. The two have virtually nothing in common.

The analogy between product development and evolution falls down when we consider the mode of inheritance. Convergence may be the result of independent work, but there are plenty of cases where one company says “Dang! They’re selling a lotta them SUVs! We gotta make some.” So evolution becomes very reticulate. It is tempting to think that there are exact parallels to biological evolution in most cultural evolution, but I would be wary.

Thank you Dave Mullenix, I will.

Republicanism, neo-conservatism, and tea-partyism do,however, seem to make natural bed fellows, and their love affair with Mr Smith seems to imply, ‘guilt by association’.

As I said, I just dislike metaphor when describing science, it is so creationist, ID’ist, god-botherist, in its conception. Let’s talk fossils, DNA, vestigil appendages, junk-DNA, facts-figures and science.

As you can tell, I am not a scientist, but I do enjoy reason, and scientisits are so very good at that.

robert van bakel said:

John Kwok,

this is the same Adam smith whose ideas of the free market are being discredited daily?

Dave Mullenix said:

robert, try reading Adam Smith sometime and see what he really said. Or better yet, read Matt Ridley’s lates, “The Rational Optimist” and see what Smith’s idea of specialization and trade has brought us.

Don’t confuse Republicanism and neo-conservativism with Adam Smith. The two have virtually nothing in common.

Indeed, this video shows how mistaken extreme assumptions about the “free market” can be.

Challenging Free Market Economics http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FccrHMGNclc

It includes quotes from Adam Smith, one of history’s greatest thinkers of economics, and shows how his ideas were twisted and misused.

Joe Felsenstein said:

The analogy between product development and evolution falls down when we consider the mode of inheritance. Convergence may be the result of independent work, but there are plenty of cases where one company says “Dang! They’re selling a lotta them SUVs! We gotta make some.” So evolution becomes very reticulate. It is tempting to think that there are exact parallels to biological evolution in most cultural evolution, but I would be wary.

All one has to do is watch large, top heavy corporate monopolies blow their own brains out.

For example, back in the early 1980s, Kodak had a 10 billion dollar war chest for research and development. They had the patents, the researchers, the resources, the in-house technology, and a fired-up division of researchers and developers who could fling them into the forefront of the digital imaging age. They even had the first megapixel 35 mm camera prototype built on a Nikon F3 body with a megapixel sensor and electronics in its film plane.

They had government and corporate contracts in digital imaging systems covering the infrared to the UV, and they had CCD imaging sensors running at over 80,000 frames per second.

What did Kodak management do? They stumbled around like a bunch of drunken cowboys repeatedly shooting themselves in the foot, getting themselves sued by Polaroid, hemorrhaging billions of dollars buying up small competitors and shutting them down, and ended up plunging the company over 13 billion dollars into debt.

Then they shot all their researchers and their precision optical division, and couldn’t even produce quality film for a number of years after that. It’s been downhill ever since.

Within a couple of years, Sony and the rest of the world blew right past them and took over the markets.

As someone one said of the management, they kept shooting themselves in the foot; and finally, during one spastic reflex, shot themselves in the head.

Then there are the stories of HP and a number of other high tech companies.

Sorry, robert, but Adam Smith’s ideas aren’t being discredited today (If any ideas are in the midst of being discredited, then it would be Marx and Engels. Have no doubt Shermer would be in complete agreement, especially when we have a POTUS who is sympathetic to Marx’s work now.):

robert van bakel said:

John Kwok,

this is the same Adam smith whose ideas of the free market are being discredited daily?

The use of metaphors:( ‘Mustang small - environment, oil cheap - adaptation, increase car size; environment change, oil expensive - adaptation, decrease car size,) are always fraught with danger. Biology and economics do bare similarities but so do all systems; inputs, tranformations, outputs, feedback. The book may be great, but I loath metaphor and allegory, ever since christians started using them in arguments from, ‘increduility’.

Let’s stick to the facts and let ID’ists make the, “take the complexity of the eye” arguments.

It may be an unfortunate fact to you, but it is true that Darwin was inspired by Smith’s economic principles as well as Malthus’s demographic principles. I suggest you should review your history so you can “stick to the facts”.

As a former scientist, I am in complete agreement with you here:

robert van bakel said: As I said, I just dislike metaphor when describing science, it is so creationist, ID’ist, god-botherist, in its conception. Let’s talk fossils, DNA, vestigil appendages, junk-DNA, facts-figures and science.

As you can tell, I am not a scientist, but I do enjoy reason, and scientisits are so very good at that.

robert van bakel said:

The use of metaphors:( ‘Mustang small - environment, oil cheap - adaptation, increase car size; environment change, oil expensive - adaptation, decrease car size,) are always fraught with danger.

ITA (I Totally Agree). Technological evolution is a fascinating subject – I run an aircraft encyclopedia site and it’s fascinating to watch the evolution of tech:

* start with Beech Bonanza

* go to twin engines, get Twin Bonanza

* uprate engines and design fatter fuselage, get Queen Air

* go to turboprops, get King Air

* stretch King Air, get 1900D airliner

Fun stuff for the air geek. It is certainly possible to draw analogies between tech evolution and biological evolution, but it’s biased towards the misleading, and it’s hard to see that anybody but creationists could get any mileage in doing so.

Dale Husband said:

[Social Darwinism] is based on the naturalistic fallacy, that what we see in nature must be the way we must live.

I like to think of the way that in many species of mantises and spiders females eat the males after sex. OK, so that tells me that human females are all vampires and a one-night-stand is terminal.

How Selection Shapes Culture, Commerce, and Nature.

Left out religion here. Although by analogy or metaphor it evolves as well.

Judaism gave rise to Xianity and Islam. Xianity had an adaptive radiation shortly after it was established into gnosticism and many other forms. As the proto-Orthodox gained dominance, a mass extinction finished those off. The expanding Orthodox and Catholic clades drove many ancient clades of religion such as the Greek Olympians and Norse Aesir to extinction.

After a long period of stasis, a punctuated equilibrium event occurred and Protestantism evolved from the Roman Catholic Church.

Since then, there have been multiple speciation events driven by niche partitioning and adaptive radiations as new territories such as the Americas opened up and with growing populations.

There are now 38,000 different xian species in many well defined clades and speciation is still an active process. The latest major clades are the Mormons with 3 species, the JWs with one, and the US fundies with a large and poorly known number. Some species are relicts of the past and in danger of extinction, such as the Aramaic speaking clades.

An up and coming clade that bears watching is the New Atheists. They evolved out of the US Xian species complex by an unusual saltation event.

Not sure why some xians hate evolution so much. They are good examples of evolution in action.

John Kwok said:

Sorry, robert, but Adam Smith’s ideas aren’t being discredited today (If any ideas are in the midst of being discredited, then it would be Marx and Engels. Have no doubt Shermer would be in complete agreement, especially when we have a POTUS who is sympathetic to Marx’s work now.):

robert van bakel said:

John Kwok,

this is the same Adam smith whose ideas of the free market are being discredited daily?

The use of metaphors:( ‘Mustang small - environment, oil cheap - adaptation, increase car size; environment change, oil expensive - adaptation, decrease car size,) are always fraught with danger. Biology and economics do bare similarities but so do all systems; inputs, tranformations, outputs, feedback. The book may be great, but I loath metaphor and allegory, ever since christians started using them in arguments from, ‘increduility’.

Let’s stick to the facts and let ID’ists make the, “take the complexity of the eye” arguments.

It may be an unfortunate fact to you, but it is true that Darwin was inspired by Smith’s economic principles as well as Malthus’s demographic principles. I suggest you should review your history so you can “stick to the facts”.

Once again, John, those analogies are descriptive, not prescriptive. We still get to chose what kind of society we want to live in.

Not exactly, unless you were an Athenian citizen in the time of Pericles and before:

fnxtr said: Once again, John, those analogies are descriptive, not prescriptive. We still get to chose what kind of society we want to live in.

Ours is a democratic republic and though we get to choose, it is a choice that’s been restricted via the United States Constitution and subsequent amendments, of which the first ten are the Bill of Rights.

A most apt analogy raven:

raven said:

How Selection Shapes Culture, Commerce, and Nature.

Left out religion here. Although by analogy or metaphor it evolves as well.

Judaism gave rise to Xianity and Islam. Xianity had an adaptive radiation shortly after it was established into gnosticism and many other forms. As the proto-Orthodox gained dominance, a mass extinction finished those off. The expanding Orthodox and Catholic clades drove many ancient clades of religion such as the Greek Olympians and Norse Aesir to extinction.

After a long period of stasis, a punctuated equilibrium event occurred and Protestantism evolved from the Roman Catholic Church.

Since then, there have been multiple speciation events driven by niche partitioning and adaptive radiations as new territories such as the Americas opened up and with growing populations.

There are now 38,000 different xian species in many well defined clades and speciation is still an active process. The latest major clades are the Mormons with 3 species, the JWs with one, and the US fundies with a large and poorly known number. Some species are relicts of the past and in danger of extinction, such as the Aramaic speaking clades.

An up and coming clade that bears watching is the New Atheists. They evolved out of the US Xian species complex by an unusual saltation event.

Not sure why some xians hate evolution so much. They are good examples of evolution in action.

John Kwok -

Biological evolution can be a good analogy for other processes in which “reproduction/generation with variation” and “selection” play a role. However, such analogies should be viewed as what they are - analogies.

However, a major logic error is made when the theory of evolution is used to justify policies which are driven by subjective opinion.

The US Constitution, including the Bill of Rights, allows a great deal of freedom with respect to economic policy. The theory of evolution describes how life evolves. It most certainly does not mandate any particular economic policy for the United States.

I certainly agree with you that Adam Smith has not been “disproven”.

Adam Smith was merely an insightful very early thinker on economics.

A policy of mainly taxing the less wealthy and redistributing resources to the most wealthy, spending a great deal on useless military endeavors, and running a constant deficit, has been tried many times in history. Such a policy usually results in economic destabilization and collapse.

Whether this is “good” policy or a “bad” policy is a subjective judgment. If cutting off any social aid to the most needy is someone’s overpowering and obsessive emotional bias - a rather common situation - then the above policies, pursued until organized society is reduced to chaos, are “good”. To someone with that particular set of emotional preferences. (Naturally, I am not saying that you hold such preferences, but I have certainly known many who did.)

Adam Smith’s writings indicate that, granted from his eighteenth century perspective, he would NOT approve of current Republican policies at all. He might not think much of Democratic policies either. But he certainly wouldn’t support the Republican ones.

In American discourse, the word “socialist” has been contorted to mean “any system or program in which the most needy are given some sort public assistance - regardless of the overall nature of the system”.

Likewise, the term “free market” has come to mean “any system that denies redistribution of resources in the form of programs for the most needy - regardless of the overall nature of the system”.

Conservative commentators sometimes literally label nations with long histories of strong free markets, like Canada, Australia, or the UK, as “socialist”.

The primary reason for these redefinitions is to allow “dog whistle” code to be used when dealing with the faithful - to imply the desire to destroy popular programs without out outright stating it.

Another intended result of this re-definition was that everyone would support whatever was labelled “free market” and loathe whatever was labelled “socialist”. However, as so many restaurant owners have discovered to their dismay, at some level, people perceive the true nature of the product, even when it is described with an “opposite of reality” name.

Hence, rather than seeing a ubiquitous desire to stamp out Canadian-like “socialist” policies, because they are labelled “socialist”, as was hoped, we actually see many people turning against the very terminology “free market”.

Mike Elzinga said:

They all have the same formula: start with an anecdote, don’t tell where you are going, proceed with your main point, then conclude by in effect finishing the anecdote.

James Burke’s series Connections had a somewhat similar formula that used the twists and turns of history to trace the paths of inventions.

Connections was first but I thought inferior (in some respects; its a much bigger series) to The Day The Universe Changed. That series inspired me as a young guy, and while I won’t defend the accuracy of it, I think it did a good job of showing the cumulative nature of science. Invention breeds invention breeds invention, on and on, so the value of science and impact it has on society becomes larger and more obvious the more we pursue it. Which is in stark contrast to religion and (many types of) philosophy, which still argue over thousand-year-old questions; no progress is made, no questions are answered, no arguments resolved.

raven said:

How Selection Shapes Culture, Commerce, and Nature.

Left out religion here. Although by analogy or metaphor it evolves as well.

Judaism gave rise to Xianity and Islam. Xianity had an adaptive radiation shortly after it was established into gnosticism and many other forms. As the proto-Orthodox gained dominance, a mass extinction finished those off. The expanding Orthodox and Catholic clades drove many ancient clades of religion such as the Greek Olympians and Norse Aesir to extinction.

After a long period of stasis, a punctuated equilibrium event occurred and Protestantism evolved from the Roman Catholic Church.

Since then, there have been multiple speciation events driven by niche partitioning and adaptive radiations as new territories such as the Americas opened up and with growing populations.

There are now 38,000 different xian species in many well defined clades and speciation is still an active process. The latest major clades are the Mormons with 3 species, the JWs with one, and the US fundies with a large and poorly known number. Some species are relicts of the past and in danger of extinction, such as the Aramaic speaking clades.

An up and coming clade that bears watching is the New Atheists. They evolved out of the US Xian species complex by an unusual saltation event.

Not sure why some xians hate evolution so much. They are good examples of evolution in action.

Technology and Memes like christianity do evolve, and selection does play a role. The big difference between biological evolution and technological or cultural evolution, of course, is that, as has been pointed out, ideas can be freely borrowed and applied to drive rapid cultural change. Biological evolution is slow since there is very little gene transfer between species. That is changing now, however, due to human intervention. Now that we are engaged in genetic engineering, we will be able to drive biological evolution even faster than we have through mere artificial selection, and biological evolution will come to more closely resemble rapid cultural evolution.

Harold,

While I would like to agree with your comments, there are a few which I strongly disagree with:

First, your assessment is inaccurate. Less than half of the United States population is paying taxes, and those who are paying are those substantially above the poverty line. In other words, many Americans do not pay Federal income taxes. A government’s primary responsibility is to protect its citizens from external attack by foreign aggressors, and this includes preemptive wars of which some of the wars against the Barbary States from 1798 to 1816 are notable examples:

“A policy of mainly taxing the less wealthy and redistributing resources to the most wealthy, spending a great deal on useless military endeavors, and running a constant deficit, has been tried many times in history. Such a policy usually results in economic destabilization and collapse.”

I strongly disagree with your assessment here. While he wouldn’t agree with all Republican policies, he would recognize that they were more supportive of his ideas than what we have seen from the Democratic Socialist Party of America (which, I might note, is what the Democratic Party should refer to itself, especially since it supported state “socialist” practices such as slavery and indentured servitude (“share cropping”) for much of its history, even after President Lyndon B. Johnson, with much congressional Republican support, had the 1965 Civil Rights bill passed:

“Adam Smith’s writings indicate that, granted from his eighteenth century perspective, he would NOT approve of current Republican policies at all. He might not think much of Democratic policies either. But he certainly wouldn’t support the Republican ones.”

No, it does not mean just that. It means a system of governance in which the government, not the individual, has the ultimate right to decide where and when one can apply for insurance, healthcare insurance, or decide whether that individual can send his/her children to successful charter schools in lieu of failing public schools. And I am just barely scratching the surface:

“In American discourse, the word ‘socialist’ has been contorted to mean ‘any system or program in which the most needy are given some sort public assistance - regardless of the overall nature of the system’.

Again this is inaccurate. May I suggest you read Michael Shermer’s “Why Darwin Matters” for a more accurate description:

“Likewise, the term ‘free market’ has come to mean ‘any system that denies redistribution of resources in the form of programs for the most needy - regardless of the overall nature of the system’.

No they are not referring to their economies, but in their system of governance with regards to the national government’s relationship with its citizenry as I have noted above:

“Conservative commentators sometimes literally label nations with long histories of strong free markets, like Canada, Australia, or the UK, as ‘socialist’.”

Sincerely,

John

John, I am not sure you understand what the term “socialism” means, if you somehow think that slavery and indentured servitude represent socialism. They were certainly not “state-planned, state-managed” institutions. While I have some degree of sympathy for your concern about the mandatory insurance required for the new health plan to operate, most of the provisions of the new health plan in American appear to have originated with the Republicans. And are you going to object to the mandatory purchase of Auto Insurance for those who use America’s roadways?

Socialism does not mean what you think it means.

John Kwok said:

Harold,

While I would like to agree with your comments, there are a few which I strongly disagree with:

First, your assessment is inaccurate. Less than half of the United States population is paying taxes, and those who are paying are those substantially above the poverty line. In other words, many Americans do not pay Federal income taxes. A government’s primary responsibility is to protect its citizens from external attack by foreign aggressors, and this includes preemptive wars of which some of the wars against the Barbary States from 1798 to 1816 are notable examples:

“A policy of mainly taxing the less wealthy and redistributing resources to the most wealthy, spending a great deal on useless military endeavors, and running a constant deficit, has been tried many times in history. Such a policy usually results in economic destabilization and collapse.”

I strongly disagree with your assessment here. While he wouldn’t agree with all Republican policies, he would recognize that they were more supportive of his ideas than what we have seen from the Democratic Socialist Party of America (which, I might note, is what the Democratic Party should refer to itself, especially since it supported state “socialist” practices such as slavery and indentured servitude (“share cropping”) for much of its history, even after President Lyndon B. Johnson, with much congressional Republican support, had the 1965 Civil Rights bill passed:

“Adam Smith’s writings indicate that, granted from his eighteenth century perspective, he would NOT approve of current Republican policies at all. He might not think much of Democratic policies either. But he certainly wouldn’t support the Republican ones.”

No, it does not mean just that. It means a system of governance in which the government, not the individual, has the ultimate right to decide where and when one can apply for insurance, healthcare insurance, or decide whether that individual can send his/her children to successful charter schools in lieu of failing public schools. And I am just barely scratching the surface:

“In American discourse, the word ‘socialist’ has been contorted to mean ‘any system or program in which the most needy are given some sort public assistance - regardless of the overall nature of the system’.

Again this is inaccurate. May I suggest you read Michael Shermer’s “Why Darwin Matters” for a more accurate description:

“Likewise, the term ‘free market’ has come to mean ‘any system that denies redistribution of resources in the form of programs for the most needy - regardless of the overall nature of the system’.

No they are not referring to their economies, but in their system of governance with regards to the national government’s relationship with its citizenry as I have noted above:

“Conservative commentators sometimes literally label nations with long histories of strong free markets, like Canada, Australia, or the UK, as ‘socialist’.”

Sincerely,

John

Actually John, Marx had an historical view of human nature. (And as we all know here at Pandas that would be about 200-400 thousand years, if we’re very generous).

Marx said we are following a predictable course: ‘the animal’, where Hobbes said it was nasty brutish and short, austrolapithacine etc; ‘feudal’, where we improved through nonsense collective ideas, like religion, and blood relations; ‘capatalism’, where we find ourselves now, with brief interludes into socialism, which are attacked mainly because we are still animals who some how like the ‘nasty brutish and short’; ‘communism’, where we will be, once we actually realise what so many Star Trek episodes tell us, that we are special, and not merely thinking apes. Ever wonder John why sci-fi in the FAR future never show you cash? No need, the society has gone beyond the dollar. Think far into the future John.

robert van bakel said:

Ever wonder John why sci-fi in the FAR future never show you cash? No need, the society has gone beyond the dollar. Think far into the future John.

Unlimited resources, universal identity theft, and nobody cares.

People ‘care’ today? I don’t know if I ‘care’, but I am endlessly fascinated, if that is caring, then yes I care.

Over at UD they have started another screed on god and the nhilism of evolution, apparently none of us here ‘care’. How absurd. I know you care Mike, I certainly do, through my fascination, and communism; thought I’d throw that in to get John K involved.

If goddit, I would assume you wouldn’t, ‘CARE’ about alternatives and, hey presto, they don’t.

James Burke’s series Connections had a somewhat similar formula that used the twists and turns of history to trace the paths of inventions.

I was thinking the same thing about Connections as I read that passage too.

Whether the examples provided in regards to economics (Mustang e.g.) really apply to biological evolution is not as important IMHO. Entertainment value is (sadly) much more crucial (citation: Comfort, Roy) than exactitude.

It is the accessibility of the material to the layperson, in terms that aren’t totally unapproachable, that adds the value.

I love reading PZ Myers’ in-depth analysis of gene variations and such, but like most readers, I lack a deep enough understanding of the science to analyze at the fundamental level.

On the other hand, when PZ rants on religion (a subject for which no research is necessary) he’s at the top of his game.

Analogies between religion and foolishness abound, and he serves them up with an enthusiastic and artful irreverence that is sorely lacking in other media venues.

Enjoy.

Mike Elzinga said:

robert van bakel said:

Ever wonder John why sci-fi in the FAR future never show you cash? No need, the society has gone beyond the dollar. Think far into the future John.

Unlimited resources, universal identity theft, and nobody cares.

Population control. Without population control, future bad. With population control, a great future with plenty of fish in the seas, game in the fields and holiday hotels in space for all of us. Robotics just have to mature first, I hate vacuum cleaning, car driving long stretches. Got urge, will travel.

John,

As I understand it the Barbary Wars were fought in order to protect US business interests (merchant ships) in the Meditteranean. The US Navy was paid for with taxes. The taxes, at that time, were primarily from taxes on trade (tariff (of Arabic origin)) which were paid for by the merchants who, in turn, passed those costs on to the consumers of their goods. The consumers of those goods would be the US consumers of those goods.

I do not know but my guess would be that the majority of goods passing through the Meditteranean at that time and bound for US ports consisted of tea and spices. Similar goods would have been transported to other nations by US merchant ships.

Before the Barbary wars and the Treaty of Tripoli there was a cost to the US consumer in the form of tribute paid to the Barbary states by the US government. I have heard that the tribute paid amounted to as much as 20% of the total revenue.

I suppose that the Barbary Wars could be seen as a ‘cost savings’ to the US public because after the treaty tribute no longer needed to be paid. While I do not know if the price on imported goods went down after the signing of the treaty, somehow, I doubt very much if it did.

Sorry Malchus, but most of the provisions in the odious Obamacare bill did not originate with the Republicans. In fact, the Messiah and his fellow Democrats rejected most of them:

Malchus said:

John, I am not sure you understand what the term “socialism” means, if you somehow think that slavery and indentured servitude represent socialism. They were certainly not “state-planned, state-managed” institutions. While I have some degree of sympathy for your concern about the mandatory insurance required for the new health plan to operate, most of the provisions of the new health plan in American appear to have originated with the Republicans. And are you going to object to the mandatory purchase of Auto Insurance for those who use America’s roadways?

Socialism does not mean what you think it means.

John Kwok said:

Harold,

While I would like to agree with your comments, there are a few which I strongly disagree with:

First, your assessment is inaccurate. Less than half of the United States population is paying taxes, and those who are paying are those substantially above the poverty line. In other words, many Americans do not pay Federal income taxes. A government’s primary responsibility is to protect its citizens from external attack by foreign aggressors, and this includes preemptive wars of which some of the wars against the Barbary States from 1798 to 1816 are notable examples:

“A policy of mainly taxing the less wealthy and redistributing resources to the most wealthy, spending a great deal on useless military endeavors, and running a constant deficit, has been tried many times in history. Such a policy usually results in economic destabilization and collapse.”

I strongly disagree with your assessment here. While he wouldn’t agree with all Republican policies, he would recognize that they were more supportive of his ideas than what we have seen from the Democratic Socialist Party of America (which, I might note, is what the Democratic Party should refer to itself, especially since it supported state “socialist” practices such as slavery and indentured servitude (“share cropping”) for much of its history, even after President Lyndon B. Johnson, with much congressional Republican support, had the 1965 Civil Rights bill passed:

“Adam Smith’s writings indicate that, granted from his eighteenth century perspective, he would NOT approve of current Republican policies at all. He might not think much of Democratic policies either. But he certainly wouldn’t support the Republican ones.”

No, it does not mean just that. It means a system of governance in which the government, not the individual, has the ultimate right to decide where and when one can apply for insurance, healthcare insurance, or decide whether that individual can send his/her children to successful charter schools in lieu of failing public schools. And I am just barely scratching the surface:

“In American discourse, the word ‘socialist’ has been contorted to mean ‘any system or program in which the most needy are given some sort public assistance - regardless of the overall nature of the system’.

Again this is inaccurate. May I suggest you read Michael Shermer’s “Why Darwin Matters” for a more accurate description:

“Likewise, the term ‘free market’ has come to mean ‘any system that denies redistribution of resources in the form of programs for the most needy - regardless of the overall nature of the system’.

No they are not referring to their economies, but in their system of governance with regards to the national government’s relationship with its citizenry as I have noted above:

“Conservative commentators sometimes literally label nations with long histories of strong free markets, like Canada, Australia, or the UK, as ‘socialist’.”

Sincerely,

John

By socialism I am referring to any government which has systematic, substantial oversight into the lives of its citizens via extensive, often intrusive, government policies. Technically ours has been a partly Democratic Socialist state since the time of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt administrations, but now, the Messiah and his Democrats would very much like to see the United States emulate the excessively Socialist policies of states such as Portugal and Greece.

As for my references to Democratic support of slavery and sharecropping, that is well documented, and that, on the face of it, Democrats have supported collectivist activities such as these which would have been approved of by the likes of Lenin, Stalin and Mao. Where I am wrong - and I did this merely to be sarcastic - is to infer that, by themselves, slavery and sharecropping are indeed Socialist.

No David, those wars were fought primarily to protect American citizens from being captured by the Barbary pirates and being sold into slavery. While it is true that they were also fought to prevent American merchant ship cargoes from being seized, the threat of slavery by these Barbary pirates was the reason why the United States Navy was formally established by the United States Congress in the 1790s. Tribute was paid to the Barbary states to prevent these seizures:

David Utidjian said:

John,

As I understand it the Barbary Wars were fought in order to protect US business interests (merchant ships) in the Meditteranean. The US Navy was paid for with taxes. The taxes, at that time, were primarily from taxes on trade (tariff (of Arabic origin)) which were paid for by the merchants who, in turn, passed those costs on to the consumers of their goods. The consumers of those goods would be the US consumers of those goods.

I do not know but my guess would be that the majority of goods passing through the Meditteranean at that time and bound for US ports consisted of tea and spices. Similar goods would have been transported to other nations by US merchant ships.

Before the Barbary wars and the Treaty of Tripoli there was a cost to the US consumer in the form of tribute paid to the Barbary states by the US government. I have heard that the tribute paid amounted to as much as 20% of the total revenue.

I suppose that the Barbary Wars could be seen as a ‘cost savings’ to the US public because after the treaty tribute no longer needed to be paid. While I do not know if the price on imported goods went down after the signing of the treaty, somehow, I doubt very much if it did.

You seem to miss my point that we, the United States, has engaged in preemptive wars against foreign powers from virtually the time of its birth. The wars against the Barbary States were an important precedent which can be used to explain our invasion of Saddam Hussein’s Fascist-ruled Iraq.

Matt Young said:

“Enough is enough.”

Except when it is too much. Further comments regarding Mr. Kwok and Pharyngula will be sent to the Bathroom Wall.

Thank you. Do you plan to install a new bathroom wall? Looks like the old one is full.

Dale Husband said:

Thank you. Do you plan to install a new bathroom wall? Looks like the old one is full.

Actually, there doesn’t appear to be that many occupants. The denizens there just seem to be particularly garrulous.

My thanks also, Matt.

You are both welcome! The Webmaster says that the BW has about 6000 comments and that is not enough to slow it appreciably, so, no, he has no plans to start another.

Agreed (But Memo to Matt: That quote you cited came from The Intersection blog and was stated not by me, but by someone else.):

Dale Husband said:

Matt Young said:

“Enough is enough.”

Except when it is too much. Further comments regarding Mr. Kwok and Pharyngula will be sent to the Bathroom Wall.

Thank you. Do you plan to install a new bathroom wall? Looks like the old one is full.

Matt!? “Crucifixion’s a doddle!”

‘Life of Brian’. This great movie also brought us the greatest line in comedy from Michael Palin, as Pilot; “He wanks with the highest in Wome.”

First, your assessment is inaccurate. Less than half of the United States population is paying taxes,

This is a common delusion! Very very few people don’t pay taxes - sales, fuel,…

The Rich pay more AND they get A LOT more from the government

Here’s news from last month noting that nearly half of all Americans don’t pay Federal income taxes at all:

http://finance.yahoo.com/news/Nearl[…]323.html?x=0

duncan cairncross said:

First, your assessment is inaccurate. Less than half of the United States population is paying taxes,

This is a common delusion! Very very few people don’t pay taxes - sales, fuel,…

The Rich pay more AND they get A LOT more from the government

Quoting from that article whose link I provided (see above):

“Tax cuts enacted in the past decade have been generous to wealthy taxpayers, too, making them a target for President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress. Less noticed were tax cuts for low- and middle-income families, which were expanded when Obama signed the massive economic recovery package last year.”

“The result is a tax system that exempts almost half the country from paying for programs that benefit everyone, including national defense, public safety, infrastructure and education. It is a system in which the top 10 percent of earners – households making an average of $366,400 in 2006 – paid about 73 percent of the income taxes collected by the federal government.”

“The bottom 40 percent, on average, make a profit from the federal income tax, meaning they get more money in tax credits than they would otherwise owe in taxes. For those people, the government sends them a payment.”

John Kwok said:

Here’s news from last month noting that nearly half of all Americans don’t pay Federal income taxes at all:

yeah, but that’s a little misleading, John, because the wiggle term “federal income taxes” makes it sound like they’re not paying anything at all.

However, virtually everyone who works “on the books” in America pays Social Security and Medicare taxes (and similar taxes on a state level) from the first dollar.

For most people these taxes are about 8.5%, and their employer pays another 8% or so on their behalf. So federal income tax notwithstanding, virtually everyone in a legitimate job pays contributes the equivalent of about 16% of their income from dollar one into the social welfare coffers.

These programs are also, I should note, the largest single component of the Federal budget, and the ones people usually fume about when they hear that someone’s “not paying taxes”. They’re also the ones that people with low incomes disproportionately rely on, so there’s a certain symmetry to the fact that they don’t get out of funding them.

Additionally, most large cities have the equivalent of a local income tax that is not subject to a threshold.

One year, about a decade ago, I added up my entire tax load for the year, just to see what I was really paying (in fairness, I lived in California at the time, which drove the numbers a little higher).

I kept track of local, state, and federal income taxes, Social Security and Medicare contributions, tossed in property taxes, business fees (the state of California has a $950 “privilege of doing business” fee. Nice.), other assorted fees (car registration, $400!?!) made a reasonable estimate of how much sales tax and other “special” fees I was paying (gas, 65 cents/gal).

Overall, I came up with something like a 47% total tax load, of which about 18% was federal income tax. And I assure you John, I made a really good salary.

So while it’s correct to point out that a lot of people don’t pay federal tax, it’s misleading because most of the people who quote the figure are trying to imply that they don’t pay any tax at all.

stevaroni said:

So while it’s correct to point out that a lot of people don’t pay federal tax, it’s misleading because most of the people who quote the figure are trying to imply that they don’t pay any tax at all.

Reminds me of this tea partier who claimed their ranks were made up of mostly Democrats and independents. When challenged on his claim, he produced these figures:

4% Democrat + 52% independent = 56%, thereby a majority, via a CNN poll.

That’s what partisan politics is all about: making accurate-in-isolation statements (or those that become that way with creative semantics) that lead listeners to draw misleading conclusions. So we get what “is” means, and that Bush’s WMD scare was technically correct because they did in fact find WMDs in Iraq…in pieces.

Partisan politics leads people like Kwok, and most of my family, from jumping all over a creationist for quote-mining, to engaging in it themselves if they think it will help the GOP. Sarah Palin and Fox News are to politics what Bill Dembski and the Discovery Institute are to science. In every way that matters, they are the same beast, and by no coincidence, include many of the same people.

John Kwok said: “It is a system in which the top 10 percent of earners – households making an average of $366,400 in 2006 – paid about 73 percent of the income taxes collected by the federal government.”

The “average” John refers to there is the median; half of all households in the top 10% make $366,400 or less. But the top 10% of households has a very skewed distribution. If you take the mean income, i.e., add all the incomes in the top 10% of households and divide by the number of households, you will find that they have a substantially higher “average” income than $366,400.

The median is the appropriate measure if you are trying to describe life in an “average” household in that group. But if you are looking at how many dollars that group paid into federal income tax, versus how much, on average, they have, then using the median instead of the mean creates the misimpression that the burden per household income in the highest 10% is heavier than it actually is.

John Kwok said:

Here’s news from last month noting that nearly half of all Americans don’t pay Federal income taxes at all:

http://finance.yahoo.com/news/Nearl[…]323.html?x=0

duncan cairncross said:

First, your assessment is inaccurate. Less than half of the United States population is paying taxes,

This is a common delusion! Very very few people don’t pay taxes - sales, fuel,…

The Rich pay more AND they get A LOT more from the government

Quoting from that article whose link I provided (see above):

“Tax cuts enacted in the past decade have been generous to wealthy taxpayers, too, making them a target for President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress. Less noticed were tax cuts for low- and middle-income families, which were expanded when Obama signed the massive economic recovery package last year.”

“The result is a tax system that exempts almost half the country from paying for programs that benefit everyone, including national defense, public safety, infrastructure and education. It is a system in which the top 10 percent of earners – households making an average of $366,400 in 2006 – paid about 73 percent of the income taxes collected by the federal government.”

“The bottom 40 percent, on average, make a profit from the federal income tax, meaning they get more money in tax credits than they would otherwise owe in taxes. For those people, the government sends them a payment.”

Republicans are always screaming about higher taxes, so when elected they vote for reducing taxes, then they turn around and scream about what they caused! Also, they do NOT reduce the size of goverment, causing public debt to go through the roof.

I can never understand the way they operate.

John Kwok said:

As a postscript to my comments, SWT, you should refer fellow members of your church to the excellent online resources of the National Center for Science Education, especially here:

http://ncse.com/religion

Hopefully after they read these resources, they would agree with your understanding of the fact of biological evolution, recognizing that their need not be any conflict between their deeply held religious beliefs and what they understand is valid mainstream science.

They may also appreciate reading NCSE staffer Josh Rosenau’s recent Washington Post book review of Elaine Howard Ecklund’s “Science vs. Religion: What Scientists Really Think”:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dy[…]2801856.html

Dr. Eugenie Scott’s Evolution and Creationism was reviewed favorably by Dr. Henry Morris in his Nov 1, 2004 book report, Creation and Evolutionism. He thought the book gave a fair treatment of ICR and scientific creationism.

John Kwok said:

Matt,

Sumner isn’t the first to draw parallels between Natural Selection in biology and Natural Selection in human endeavors. Thought Michael Shermer was on firm ground with regards to economics within his book “Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design”, especially in noting how Adam Smith’s concept of free market economics led Darwin to think of an economy of nature.

Sincerely,

John

Are you familiar with Ludwig von Mises?

henry said:

Are you familiar with Ludwig von Mises?

Isn’t he a character in the Terry Pratchett novels?

stevaroni said:

henry said:

Are you familiar with Ludwig von Mises?

Isn’t he a character in the Terry Pratchett novels?

I was thinking the same thing. Well, Moist von Lipwig DID reform the Ankh-Morpork monetary system …

Heard of him, but am not familiar with his work:

henry said:

John Kwok said:

Matt,

Sumner isn’t the first to draw parallels between Natural Selection in biology and Natural Selection in human endeavors. Thought Michael Shermer was on firm ground with regards to economics within his book “Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design”, especially in noting how Adam Smith’s concept of free market economics led Darwin to think of an economy of nature.

Sincerely,

John

Are you familiar with Ludwig von Mises?

That was Genie Scott’s intent, even while remaining most critical of it:

henry said:

John Kwok said:

As a postscript to my comments, SWT, you should refer fellow members of your church to the excellent online resources of the National Center for Science Education, especially here:

http://ncse.com/religion

Hopefully after they read these resources, they would agree with your understanding of the fact of biological evolution, recognizing that their need not be any conflict between their deeply held religious beliefs and what they understand is valid mainstream science.

They may also appreciate reading NCSE staffer Josh Rosenau’s recent Washington Post book review of Elaine Howard Ecklund’s “Science vs. Religion: What Scientists Really Think”:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dy[…]2801856.html

Dr. Eugenie Scott’s Evolution and Creationism was reviewed favorably by Dr. Henry Morris in his Nov 1, 2004 book report, Creation and Evolutionism. He thought the book gave a fair treatment of ICR and scientific creationism.

She was willing to do the same for ID creationism, but no one at the Dishonesty Institute was interested in giving her such assistance.

John Kwok said:

Heard of him, but am not familiar with his work:

henry said:

John Kwok said:

Matt,

Sumner isn’t the first to draw parallels between Natural Selection in biology and Natural Selection in human endeavors. Thought Michael Shermer was on firm ground with regards to economics within his book “Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design”, especially in noting how Adam Smith’s concept of free market economics led Darwin to think of an economy of nature.

Sincerely,

John

Are you familiar with Ludwig von Mises?

Mises wrote Socialism, which showed why socialism fails. When Hitler came to power, he fled to America, but was unable to find any employment in any economics department because they were dominated by socialists. Eventually, a friend paid his salary so he could teach at an university. His masterpiece was Human Action. Both books among many others are available at Mises.org. Some of the books can be view online.

For some years now, I’ve thought of economics (of the breed we have) as showing a sort of evolution where Lamarck was right.

As per Adam Smith, I never read Wealth of Nations. I read Powers of Mind, but I highly suspect that was a different Adam Smith. But I did read an article which claimed that Mr. Smith wasn’t advocating free-market economics, but merely writing about why one form of capitalism, known as mercantilism, is bad, and should be dropped in favor of another form of capitalism. Being neither economist nor historian, I didn’t take much away from that article.

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