nhaliday + tocqueville   12

The Western Elite from a Chinese Perspective - American Affairs Journal
I don’t claim to be a modern-day Alexis de Tocqueville, nor do I have much in common with this famous observer of American life. He grew up in Paris, a city renowned for its culture and architecture. I grew up in Shijiazhuang, a city renowned for being the headquarters of the company that produced toxic infant formula. He was a child of aristocrats; I am the child of modest workers.

Nevertheless, I hope my candid observations can provide some insights into the elite institutions of the West. Certain beliefs are as ubiquitous among the people I went to school with as smog was in Shijiazhuang. The doctrines that shape the worldviews and cultural assumptions at elite Western institutions like Cambridge, Stanford, and Goldman Sachs have become almost religious. Nevertheless, I hope that the perspective of a candid Chinese atheist can be of some instruction to them.

...

So I came to the UK in 2001, when I was 16 years old. Much to my surprise, I found the UK’s exam-focused educational system very similar to the one in China. What is more, in both countries, going to the “right schools” and getting the “right job” are seen as very important by a large group of eager parents. As a result, scoring well on exams and doing well in school interviews—or even the play session for the nursery or pre-prep school—become the most important things in the world. Even at the university level, the undergraduate degree from the University of Cambridge depends on nothing else but an exam at the end of the last year.

On the other hand, although the UK’s university system is considered superior to China’s, with a population that is only one-twentieth the size of my native country, competition, while tough, is less intimidating. For example, about one in ten applicants gets into Oxbridge in the UK, and Stanford and Harvard accept about one in twenty-five applicants. But in Hebei province in China, where I am from, only one in fifteen hundred applicants gets into Peking or Qinghua University.

Still, I found it hard to believe how much easier everything became. I scored first nationwide in the GCSE (high school) math exam, and my photo was printed in a national newspaper. I was admitted into Trinity College, University of Cambridge, once the home of Sir Isaac Newton, Francis Bacon, and Prince Charles.

I studied economics at Cambridge, a field which has become more and more mathematical since the 1970s. The goal is always to use a mathematical model to find a closed-form solution to a real-world problem. Looking back, I’m not sure why my professors were so focused on these models. I have since found that the mistake of blindly relying on models is quite widespread in both trading and investing—often with disastrous results, such as the infamous collapse of the hedge fund Long-Term Capital Management. Years later, I discovered the teaching of Warren Buffett: it is better to be approximately right than precisely wrong. But our professors taught us to think of the real world as a math problem.

The culture of Cambridge followed the dogmas of the classroom: a fervent adherence to rules and models established by tradition. For example, at Cambridge, students are forbidden to walk on grass. This right is reserved for professors only. The only exception is for those who achieve first class honors in exams; they are allowed to walk on one area of grass on one day of the year.

The behavior of my British classmates demonstrated an even greater herd mentality than what is often mocked in American MBAs. For example, out of the thirteen economists in my year at Trinity, twelve would go on to join investment banks, and five of us went to work for Goldman Sachs.

...

To me, Costco represents the best of American capitalism. It is a corporation known for having its customers and employees in mind, while at the same time it has compensated its shareholders handsomely over the years. To the customers, it offers the best combination of quality and low cost. Whenever it manages to reduce costs, it passes the savings on to customers immediately. Achieving a 10 percent gross margin with prices below Amazon’s is truly incredible. After I had been there once, I found it hard to shop elsewhere.

Meanwhile, its salaries are much higher than similar retail jobs. When the recession hit in 2008, the company increased salaries to help employees cope with the difficult environment. From the name tags the staff wear, I have seen that frontline employees work there for decades, something hard to imagine elsewhere.

Stanford was for me a distant second to Costco in terms of the American capitalist experience. Overall, I enjoyed the curriculum at the GSB. Inevitably I found some classes less interesting, but the professors all seemed to be quite understanding, even when they saw me reading my kindle during class.

One class was about strategy. It focused on how corporate mottos and logos could inspire employees. Many of the students had worked for nonprofits or health care or tech companies, all of which had mottos about changing the world, saving lives, saving the planet, etc. The professor seemed to like these mottos. I told him that at Goldman our motto was “be long-term greedy.” The professor couldn’t understand this motto or why it was inspiring. I explained to him that everyone else in the market was short-term greedy and, as a result, we took all their money. Since traders like money, this was inspiring. He asked if perhaps there was another motto or logo that my other classmates might connect with. I told him about the black swan I kept on my desk as a reminder that low probability events happen with high frequency. He didn’t like that motto either and decided to call on another student, who had worked at Pfizer. Their motto was “all people deserve to live healthy lives.” The professor thought this was much better. I didn’t understand how it would motivate employees, but this was exactly why I had come to Stanford: to learn the key lessons of interpersonal communication and leadership.

On the communication and leadership front, I came to the GSB knowing I was not good and hoped to get better. My favorite class was called “Interpersonal Dynamics” or, as students referred to it, “Touchy Feely.” In “Touchy Feely,” students get very candid feedback on how their words and actions affect others in a small group that meets several hours per week for a whole quarter.

We talked about microaggressions and feelings and empathy and listening. Sometimes in class the professor would say things to me like “Puzhong, when Mary said that, I could see you were really feeling something,” or “Puzhong, I could see in your eyes that Peter’s story affected you.” And I would tell them I didn’t feel anything. I was quite confused.

One of the papers we studied mentioned that subjects are often not conscious of their own feelings when fully immersed in a situation. But body indicators such as heart rate would show whether the person is experiencing strong emotions. I thought that I generally didn’t have a lot of emotions and decided that this might be a good way for me to discover my hidden emotions that the professor kept asking about.

So I bought a heart rate monitor and checked my resting heart rate. Right around 78. And when the professor said to me in class “Puzhong, I can see that story brought up some emotions in you,” I rolled up my sleeve and checked my heart rate. It was about 77. And so I said, “nope, no emotion.” The experiment seemed to confirm my prior belief: my heart rate hardly moved, even when I was criticized, though it did jump when I became excited or laughed.

This didn’t land well on some of my classmates. They felt I was not treating these matters with the seriousness that they deserved. The professor was very angry. My takeaway was that my interpersonal skills were so bad that I could easily offend people unintentionally, so I concluded that after graduation I should do something that involved as little human interaction as possible.

Therefore, I decided I needed to return to work in financial markets rather than attempting something else. I went to the career service office and told them that my primary goal after the MBA was to make money. I told them that $500,000 sounded like a good number. They were very confused, though, as they said their goal was to help me find my passion and my calling. I told them that my calling was to make money for my family. They were trying to be helpful, but in my case, their advice didn’t turn out to be very helpful.

Eventually I was able to meet the chief financial officer of my favorite company, Costco. He told me that they don’t hire any MBAs. Everyone starts by pushing trolleys. (I have seriously thought about doing just that. But my wife is strongly against it.) Maybe, I thought, that is why the company is so successful—no MBAs!

...

Warren Buffett has said that the moment one was born in the United States or another Western country, that person has essentially won a lottery. If someone is born a U.S. citizen, he or she enjoys a huge advantage in almost every aspect of life, including expected wealth, education, health care, environment, safety, etc., when compared to someone born in developing countries. For someone foreign to “purchase” these privileges, the price tag at the moment is $1 million dollars (the rough value of the EB-5 investment visa). Even at this price level, the demand from certain countries routinely exceeds the annual allocated quota, resulting in long waiting times. In that sense, American citizens were born millionaires!

Yet one wonders how long such luck will last. This brings me back to the title of Rubin’s book, his “uncertain world.” In such a world, the vast majority things are outside our control, determined by God or luck. After we have given our best and once the final card is drawn, we should neither become too excited by what we have achieved nor too depressed by what we failed to … [more]
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january 2018 by nhaliday
Without belief in a god, but never without belief in a devil. – sam[ ]zdat
The nature of mass movements. The beats and the John Birchers. The taxonomy of the frustrated. Horseshoe theory. The frustrated cannot derive satisfaction from action, something else has to fill the void Poverty, work and meaning. Mass movements need to sow resentment. Hatred is the strongest unifier. Modernity inevitably causes justified resentment. Tocqueville, Polyanai, Hoffer and Scott's theories. Helpful and unhelpful responses.
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july 2017 by nhaliday
Tocqueville: Book II Chapter 8: HOW THE AMERICANS COMBAT INDIVIDUALISM BY THE PRINCIPLE OF SELF-INTEREST RIGHTLY UNDERSTOOD
When the world was managed by a few rich and powerful individuals, these persons loved to entertain a lofty idea of the duties of man. They were fond of professing that it is praiseworthy to forget oneself and that good should be done without hope of reward, as it is by the Deity himself. Such were the standard opinions of that time in morals.
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february 2017 by nhaliday
Tocqueville on Mexico | Marginal Restoration
The Constitution of the United States resembles those beautiful creations of human industry which insure wealth and renown to their inventors, but which are profitless in other hands. This truth is exemplified by the condition of Mexico at the present time. The Mexicans were desirous of establishing a federal system, and they took the Federal Constitution of their neighbors, the Anglo-Americans, as their model, and copied it entirely. But although they had borrowed the letter of the law, they could not introduce the spirit and the sense which give it life. They were involved in ceaseless embarrassments by the mechanism of their double government; the sovereignty of the States and that of the Union perpetually exceeded their respective privileges, and came into collision; and to the present day Mexico is alternately the victim of anarchy and the slave of military despotism. … To the south, the Union has a point of contact with the empire of Mexico; and it is thence that serious hostilities may one day be expected to arise. But for a long while to come, the uncivilized state of the Mexican people, the depravity of their morals, and their extreme poverty, will prevent that country from ranking high amongst nations.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1824_Constitution_of_Mexico

Influences from the United States on the Mexican Constitution of 1824: http://sci-hub.tw/http://www.jstor.org/stable/40167747

Beyond the indirect influence of Americans on the shaping of the Mexican constitution was the fact that its draftsmen made extensive adaptations from the American instrument of 1787. In some parts theConstitution of 1824 was almost a transcript of its Philadelphia prototype, but viewed in the whole it was not a slavish copy. Much substance and many particular provisions were taken from the liberal Spanish Constitution of 1812.37 Although the Mexican lawmakers may have reposed a naive faith in the American system, they certainly altered the borrowed provisions to fit the peculiar situation in their own country. A comparison of the two documents will demonstrate this.

In certain broad aspects the two constitutions were strikingly similar.38 The basic principle of a confederation of semi-sovereign states into a single political entity - with a balance of power between executive, legislative, and judicial departments - was the same in both Moreover, each charter expressed the same general aspirations toward liberalism in providing for the advancement of education and science the establishment of patents and copyrights, the freedom of the press, and the abolition of such abuses in the administration of justice as torture, confiscation of property, ex post facto laws, search and seizure without a warrant, conviction without proper legal procedure, and imprisonment on mere suspicion. The Mexican constitution, however, did not guarantee the peculiarly Anglo-American institution of trial by jury.

https://twitter.com/tcjfs/status/901528359313735680
Mar 6, 1882, Sen James George:

If it were true (which I deny) that this bill is in conflict with the logic of the political theories in regard to the rights of mankind, which have heretofore prevailed in this country, that is no insuperable objection to its passage. I do not deny that every measure should be weighed and considered in the light of accepted and recognized principles, but I do deny that every measure, however necessary to the welfare and the happiness of the people of the United States, however accordant to the teachings of experience and history, should be condemned because it conflicts with the theories of a speculative and Utopian scheme for the administration of the affairs of this world.

Our Government has attained its present astonishing grandeur and vigor because it is the result of the growth and development of Anglo-Saxon ideas, put into practical operation by Anglo-Saxon common sense. It has not grown according to a rule prescribed by an inexorable logic, reasoning from premises which assumed an ideal perfection in human nature and attainable in human institutions. Our Constitution is the work of men, intended for the government of men, not of angels or demi-gods. It recognizes human frailties and human passions, and seeks no unattainable perfection. It was made by the American people for themselves and their posterity, not for the human race. It was ordained by the American people for their own happiness and their own welfare, and the welfare of such others as they should choose of their own free will to admit to American citizenship. That our institutions are stable; that they attain the ends of good government-security to life, liberty, and property, the progress and happiness of the American people; that they can stand any strain, however great, occasioned by unlocked-for and calamitous emergencies, is because they were evolved and were modified as circumstances demanded, and were not the result of the a priori reasonings of political theorists."

But even more striking than the similarities were the differences. The most significant of these were in the provisions that defined church-state relations, and in those that outlined the powers of the president. A foundation-stone of the American system was the guarantee of freedom of religious thought and worship. Although the United States Constitution contained no expression of this principle, the First Amendment in 1 79 1 specified that Congress could make no law respecting "the establishment of religion" or the prohibition of worship. In direct contrast was Article III of the Mexican Constitution, which read: "The religion of the Mexican Nation is, and shall be perpetually, the Apostolic Roman Catholic. The Nation protects it by wise and just laws, and prohibits the exercise of any other." Purity of religion had been one of the tenets of the Plan of Iguala in 1821, and this fact rendered it difficult if not impossible to omit such a provision in the Constitution of 1824.

Because they had experienced the evils of a weak central authority under the Articles of Confederation, the founding fathers of 1787 invested the office of president with strong powers. Exactly the reverse was true in Mexico in 1824. The Mexican framers had before them the example of the dictatorial rule of Iturbide, and consequently they hedged the executive office with restrictions so that the incumbent could not legally exercise extreme power. As in the American system, the Mexican president would serve four years; but unlike his northern counterpart he could neither succeed himself nor again hold the office until four years had elapsed. He was designated commander-in-chief of the national forces, but could not command in person without the consent of the federal legislature. His "regulations, decrees, and orders" were not effective until signed by the secretary of the department to be governed by them, and he had no appointive power over the courts. The judges of the Supreme Court of Mexico were to be elected by the majority vote of the state legislatures.

related: https://pinboard.in/u:nhaliday/b:f6ee8773e981
(Greg mentioned common law in one interview)

https://twitter.com/NoamJStein/status/952598279359000582
https://archive.is/D68Vm
https://archive.is/GcsWK
https://archive.is/kJMAa
it's not even a hypothetical: newly independent Latin Americans in the 19th century copied the US constitution, sometimes word for word. didn't work, obviously

The word "Institutions" has become a form of stopthink.
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december 2016 by nhaliday
Marginal Restoration | Veracity is the heart of morality
http://tcjfs.tumblr.com/post/144019583614/the-great-liberal-death-wish-1966
https://archive.is/7HQBX
“The Great Liberal Death-Wish” (1966)
- Malcom Muggeridge

The readiest explanation in years to come of this evident contradiction between the objectives and consequences of liberalism is likely, I should have thought, to be that, despite its seemingly sanguine and benevolent character, liberalism in reality represented a collective death-wish. Like individuals, civilizations in decline, consciously or unconsciously, want to be extinguished; liberalism is the primrose-path to extinction. There is a story (probably apocryphal) that in the days of the Third Reich a Nazi procession included a contingent of liberal intellectuals bearing the banner: ‘Down With Us!’ Had they but known it, they were speaking on behalf of all liberals everywhere.

...

Orwell, in his enchanting fable Animal Farm, in his brilliant analysis of double-speak and double-think as projected by the Ministry of Truth (based, as he told me, not on a Nazi or Fascist or Soviet model, but on the BBC), worked it all out superbly in imaginative detail. He made only one mistake. He envisaged the nightmare as being imposed by ruthlessly efficient power-maniacs, not realizing that it had been born and nourished in the finest, most civilized, and most humane minds of our time, including his own. For our Dark Ages, it is we ourselves who are turning out the lights, fondly supposing that we are turning them on.

http://tcjfs.tumblr.com/about
https://archive.is/dNzpo
I am a senior applied math major at Yale.
I’m interested in demography, sociology, economics, moral psychology, and political theory.
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december 2016 by nhaliday

bundles : culturedismalityguvnorpeepssoft

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