Mathematics as the basis for leftist reasoning



Helen Keller, feminist, radical socialist, anti-racist activist and civil libertarian

There is no logic in the argument that maths is liberal because maths professors are.

But I'm sure there is more to it than that.

That aside the above illustration shows why partisan two party politics will always fail as the linear (I call it black and white) view is always to say the opposite of your argument is purely wrong.
It amazes me that the modern western liberal centerist politics never acknowledge the benefits of both capitalism and socialism in the same argument.


The Laffer curve of Swedishness?


The example used in the OP is curious.

As the example itself notes, if US and Sweden are on a straight line, then CATO may be right and it may be rational to move away from the Sweden model.

But if the alternative example of the curve is correct, then it would make sense for both countries to shift in direction.

What we would really need, however, is some way of determining which model is correct. All Cory and the OP seem to do is posit that simply because there are alternative ways of describing a problem that any given way of describing it is likely wrong (which may be trivially true, but is not all that helpful).


They're not saying there are alternative ways of describing a problem they're saying that one way is ridiculously simplified to the point it is worse than useless, and the other provides an example of why that way is useless. Its an important point because the truth is that in the US so much is done wrong because of an anti-intellectual bias that insists on simplifying complex issues until they turn to nonsense.

Take for example the notion that government accounting is just like a business or home. The idea appears to have a certain linear logic to it, but its flat wrong. Governments print money. Homes and businesses don't. If governments don't print money then there is no money, so governments HAVE TO run deficits in order for us to have money to spend and create an economy. Those two facts completely annihilate the "common sense" meme that most Americans believe. This leads to all sorts of perverse and terrible outcomes for the vast majority of the American citizenry. I'd go so far as to say that linear thinking is destroying our country and the world. The way simpletons mock global warming because there was a big snowstorm in early Spring, or something, is symptomatic of the problem. In other words stupidity reins when linear thought is applied to complex problems. And the left is constantly accused of "wishy-washy" thinking because we don't always give pat and simple, linear answers and our solutions often have a counter-intuitive quality.

And in response to another comment above, the fact that mathematicians are liberal doesn't prove that liberals are correct on every issue, but it does strongly suggest it wink.


The problem with what you're saying is that it's just a different analysis of the problem, but is being given the false impression that somehow this alternative analysis is More Mathematical(TM). There's nothing wrong with saying Cato is wrong about its analysis of the Swedish health system, but adding all this "math is liberal" nosense vastly overreaches.

For example, Cato has been consistently against torture, Torture’s Long Shadow.

The whole conceit of the argument against torture, the mental model involved, is linear in nature. If two countries that engage in torture -- the United States and Russia -- are both on a straight line, one end of which is liberal democracy and one end of which is a "Black Pit of Torturous Hell," then of course the US should move away from torturing detainnees and toward graning them full legal representation—and Russia should too.

Suppose instead that the two countries are located on a curve, one where the value of torture peaks at some degree of autocratic/"Russianness" that is greater than that of the United States but also less than that of Russia, but declines when you have too much torture—or too little of it.

There's such a thing as torturing too little, and there's such a thing as torturing too much, and there's kind of a Goldilocks point where it's just
right, somewhere in between. And so there's no contradiction to say that, maybe the US should engage in more torturing than it does, and maybe Russia should have less of torture than it does.


BTW, this reminds me of one of the more annoying "people are bad at math" books, John Allen Paulos' "Innumeracy."

It is generally a good book but in it Paulos calls out people who supported raising the US highway speed limits from 55mph to 65mph. Proponents of the change tended to argue that increasing the speed limit would not lead to more traffic deaths.

For example, when the recent decisions by a number of states to raise the speed limit on certain highways to 65 m.p.h. and not to impose stiffer penalties on drunk driving were challenged by safety groups, they were defended with the patently false assertion that there would be no increase in accident rates, instead of with a frank acknowledgment of economic and political factors which outweighed the likely extra deaths.

But, of course, both the rate of traffic accidents and traffic accident deaths continued their historical decline after speed limits were raised to 65mph (and then 70mph).


Hmm... The point that I got from the article wasn't so much that the curve is linear or parabolic, it's that we need to think about what is the most appropriate curve.

I think it was Douglas Hofstadter (of Gödel, Escher, Bach, an Eternal Golden Braid fame) who suggested that when considering an action, or law, or what have you, some helpful questions are:

What if everybody did it?
What if no one did it?
What if half the people did it?
What if a few people did it?
What if most people did it?

One way to look at this in terms of this article is that it helps to determine the order of the equation needed to model the decision.

"What if no one/everyone/half the people tortured people?" gives a very different answer than "What if no one/everyone/half the people drove on the right side of the road?"

The first question suggests a linear relation and a plot going from liberal democracy at one end to "Black Pit of Torturous Hell" may well be appropriate.

On the second question, it does't matter which side is chosen, as long as everyone agrees to the same side. The shape of the solution is fundamentally different.


The problem with what you're saying is that it's just a different analysis of the problem, but is being given the false impression that somehow this alternative analysis is More Mathematical(TM).

It is indeed More Mathematical to note that there are multiple possible models that would lead to different conclusions about what direction each country should move, and Less Mathematical to simply fail to consider the possibility of different models and tacitly assume that the linear one is so obvious that it doesn't even need to be argued.

The whole conceit of the argument against torture, the mental model involved, is linear in nature. If two countries that engage in torture -- the United States and Russia -- are both on a straight line, one end of which is liberal democracy and one end of which is a "Black Pit of Torturous Hell," then of course the US should move away from torturing detainnees and toward graning them full legal representation—and Russia should too.

Maybe CATO's reason for arguing against torture is just a slippery slope argument which says that while there's nothing inherently wrong with torturing terrorists for information, we shouldn't do it because it will lead to a torture-happy tyranny. If so, I think most non-libertarian people who oppose torture would say they've reached the right conclusion for the wrong reason--torture is just inherently morally wrong (a conclusion that could be justified using various moral arguments, like the veil of ignorance), and would still be wrong even if there was no danger we would slide into a "black pit of torturous hell".


How come in graph one USA is more prosperous, but in the second Sweden is? The problem isn't just curve fitting, it's selective use of data.


The first graph illustrates the Libertarian worldview that assumes more Socialism is always worse than less Socialism so if the US is less Socialist than Sweden then it has to be closer to prosperity on the straight line. But his whole point is that there is no straight line, so it can be simultaneously true that Sweden would benefit from less Socialism while the US would benefit from more Socialism. If it pleases you to push Sweden a little lower on the arc and the US a little higher it still doesn't invalidate his point.


Unfortunately Liberals think winning arguments actually depends on winning arguments.


I get that. It just irritates me. I'd have preferred to have the two superimposed.

Or ideally, more data points from countries with various levels of 'Swedishness'. Perhaps his curve is also too simplistic and a more complex polynomial is required.

Clearly some system identification is required on the plant before we can try to construct a controller. What's the equivalent of a Laplace transform for Swedishness?

The graph also implies it's possible to be more Swedish than Sweden, which seems odd.


Except who is more prosperous - the US or Sweden? Just looking at money alone, I think Sweden comes out on top, and when you add in things like "quality of life," it's overwhelming. So maybe the straight line is sloped the other way - more Swedishness = more prosperity.

However, this violates the Republican Doctrine of Europe is Bad.


The graphs don't have anything to do with real numbers, but with political perception and way that you would truly represent the result of political action - a swing to the right or left.

Here's why this has no current basis in reality. (All calculating numbers 2012)

Sweden GNP = 420.1 billion PPP dollars
Population = 9.517 million
Per Capita = $44142.00 or .0023% of that GNP

USA GNP = 15.89 trillion PPP dollars
Population = 313.9 million
Per Capita = $50621.00 or .0020% of that GNP

So between the two countries, the per capita GNP is about the same. We aren't different fiscally.

Here's information from 2013:

"Money, while it cannot buy happiness, is an important means to achieving higher living standards. In Sweden, the average household net-adjusted disposable income per capita is 27 456 USD a year, more than the OECD average of 23 938 USD a year. But there is a considerable gap between the richest and poorest – the top 20% of the population earn more than four times as much as the bottom 20%."

Notice that their middle income is higher than the US, and the top 20% earn four times as much as the bottom 20%. That's very different from the US, where "[i]n fact, of course, the top 20% control about 85% of the wealth." That's everything - not just the bottom 20%.

So, it isn't how much money we have, but how we're dispersing it that makes the difference. The second curve suggests that we in the US could well benefit from taking some of Sweden's cues for better living. For Sweden to become more financially prosperous, it suggests that the country might want to find ways to incorporate parts of US culture.


Jordan has had some back and forth with the guy from Cato. Roughly, the Cato guy says he isn't so naively linear but ... when you look at what he claims is the optimal proportion of public to private sectors there is --- maybe --- one country in the developed world (Singapore) which has that little public spending. It isn't exactly a position taken from the evidence.


It should be pointed out that mathematics professors are probably liberal because all academics lean liberal.

And I know enough young-earth creationists who happen to be scientists to tell you that a person's beliefs don't always line up with their professional knowledge.


No, they don't. Just because Fox says it's true doesn't mean it is. Some colleges are virtually 100% Republican -- most particularly the ones that teach "intelligent design" -- some are mostly Democrat, but most are a mix....a real mix, like 60/40 or 70/30, not 95/5.


Whether it's math, science, or religion, it's always the same question: Will Chris Mooney ever run out of ways to humblebrag and get paid for it?


First off, I'm hardly a Republican, so don't go pulling your self-righteous "Fox News" card on me. Second, I said "Lean liberal," so even a 60/40 split would be consistent with my claim. But honestly, I would be very surprised to see that.

According to this news article detailing the results of this peer reviewed article, the mix of professors teaching at American Universities is 72% Liberal, 15% Conservative, with 50% self identifying as Democrat and only 11% as Republican. Presumably the remainder either identify with a third-party or declare themselves Independent.

Taking the independents out of the picture, that means there are more than four liberals for every one conservative. That seems like a pretty clear majority.

If you have data, I'd like to see it, but I'd be very surprised to see a large number of universities that aren't considered "fringe" by the rest of the academic community that are staunchly republican.