We are all Haitians today


A neighbor here among the Millionaires against Trump posted the following on Facebook:

I AM A FIRST GENERATION IMMIGRANT. FROM A SHITHOLE. Yes, Taiwan in the early 70s was not nearly as much of a shithole as, say, Haiti is today. And, yes, Haiti is a shithole, by any objective measure.

Compared to the United States in the early 70s, Taiwan was a substandard place to raise your children. The US was then — and is today — the best nation on the planet to where one can immigrate and build a better life, for yourself and your children.

I have ALWAYS been in favor of a (virtually) open border policy. One thing we can do for Haiti is to permit as many Haitians as possible to immigrate to America. And from Africa. And Vietnam and Indonesia and Turkmenistan. And, hey, from Norway too.

As an avowed “Never-Trumper” since day one, I am horrified by our President’s personal behavior, his loose affiliation with objective truth, and his unbelievable egotism.

[link to “Of Course Most Immigrants Come from Shithole Countries. So What?” (Reason)]

It try to be as agreeable as possible on Facebook, so I responded:

By the 1970s, Taiwan had only 8,000 years of world-leading education and culture to draw from (see the National Palace Museum for example).

(Alluding to the fact that Taiwan in 1949 became home to millions of people from the mainland’s most elite families.)

In response to his idea of open borders, I made my standard offer:

If you would like to host a Haitian family in your house for the next few years, I will be happy to pay for the JetBlue tickets from Port-au-Prince and the Boston Coach ride from Logan!

He responded with

Oh, please. If Haitians – or Norwegians – want to buy my house, I’d be happy to take their money.

He clarified that he expected immigrants to “find a job”. I asked why this was a reasonable expectation given that an immigrant under his proposed scheme might be a wheelchair-bound 80-year-old. Or the immigrant might simply prefer to live in public housing, subscribe to Medicaid, shop with an EBT, and talk on an Obamaphone. (Here in Massachusetts, one need not be a legal immigrant in order to be entitled to taxpayer-funded housing.)

His response was essentially that immigration of randomly-selected or even adversely selected (e.g., disabled senior citizens) was guaranteed to make existing Americans wealthier via GDP growth. I got him to clarify that he expected both the aggregate GDP and the per-capita GDP to grow. He focused in on one point from the Reason article: immigrants “use welfare at lower rates than their made-in-the-U.S.A. analogues”. He provided support for this with a link to “Poor Immigrants Use Public Benefits at a Lower Rate than Poor Native-Born Citizens” (Cato Institute). It turns out that immigrants are slightly less likely to receive at least one form of welfare, perhaps due to bureaucratic obstacles. It turns out the wording of the title has to be read carefully. The study is limited to poor immigrants. The Cato folks say “a greater percent of immigrants are low-income and, all else remaining equal, more eligible for benefits. Non-citizens are almost twice as likely to have low incomes compared with natives.”

I asked how it was possible for a society to be richer on average by bringing in people who are, on average, lower income than those already present. The answer turned out to be that, in the long run (yet to be measured), the grandchildren of today’s immigrants are guaranteed to be much more successful than the grandchildren of native-born Americans.

What about providing infrastructure for a country of, say, 1 billion people? How would that work given our current inability to build mass transit or highways economically?

Infrastructure follows demand, and is also heavily determined by population density. This country was built by-and because- of growing immigrant populations, and infrastructure followed. The *difficulty* in building infrastructure is entirely, wholly, and utterly, a result of BS political rules, in deference to, among other things, union featherbedding, environmental NIMBYism, etc.

[i.e., once we have more immigrants the political rules and unions will no longer inflate public construction projects]

One big question is why any immigrants are available to the U.S. If immigration is an economic panacea, why don’t other countries bid higher than we do? Norway is wealthier per capita than the U.S. Why aren’t they able to out-compete us to capture valuable immigrants, e.g., by paying Haitians to come live in Norway? (And, in fact, why do the Norwegians instead invest their time and money in deporting immigrants?)

His summary:

The world gets wealthier with more people — even as you divide wealth among more people.

The original poster remained confident in his theories, so I decided to see how much explanatory value they had.

You’ve proven that random immigration will make us richer per capita. But can you explain how emigration would make us poor? Suppose the US found a nice exoplanet and developed an exclusive technology for getting there. Only Americans can go and half of households decide to depart the solar system. It turns out to be a perfectly random sample. So now we are left with the same infrastructure, natural resources, real estate, but half as many people. Do individual incomes rise or fall?

His response:

Just think about it, logically. If the current population of the US generates $X trillion in GDP, and if the population drops to ZERO, then GDP would necessarily drop to $0, right? Now draw a graph between the two points.

The line may not, and almost certainly would not, be straight, but it’s hard to see how there would be a bump in the graph line such that productivity would be substantially higher if our population is randomly decreased by Y%.

I pressed

So the supply of labor decreases (because half the population has gone to the exoplanet) and the value of labor also decreases? (Note that wages rose in Europe after the Black Death reduced the supply of labor. See the Economist.

It turns out that he essentially rejects the principle of diminishing marginal product of labor (Wikipedia).

Sorry for the length of the post, but I think it is interesting for showing how Americans are able to think about immigration. At least some Americans seem to disregard the idea that natural resources are a source of national wealth and therefore, since all GDP comes from human effort, the U.S. could be just as wealthy (or wealthier!), per capita, if all 7.6 billion people on the planet lived here. It is kind of the opposite of Barack Obama’s “You didn’t build that.” We mark the value of the land, water, minerals, etc. that we stole from the Indians to $0. We mark the value of already-built infrastructure, such as the Interstates, the New York City subway system, etc. to $0. We mark the value of existing business assets, such as car factories, to $0.


  • “As Labor Pool Shrinks, Prison Time Is Less of a Hiring Hurdle” (nytimes, Jan 13), suggesting that a smaller labor force is better for existing workers (someone didn’t clear this story with the rest of the editorial staff?)
  • “What most frequently meets our view (and occasions complaint) is our teeming population. Our numbers are burdensome to the world, which can hardly support us…. In very deed, pestilence, and famine, and wars, and earthquakes have to be regarded as a remedy for nations, as the means of pruning the luxuriance of the human race.” (Tertullian, nearly 2000 years ago in Carthage, quoted in Wikipedia)
  • Modern Malthusianism

Apple’s deep sense of responsibility to give back


“Apple, Capitalizing on New Tax Law, Plans to Bring Billions in Cash Back to U.S.” (nytimes) says that Apple is going to pay $38 billion in tax to the U.S. Treasury on money that it has been stuffing overseas. Here’s the confusing part to me:

Timothy D. Cook, Apple’s chief executive, said in a statement, “We have a deep sense of responsibility to give back to our country and the people who help make our success possible.”

It makes sense that Apple is bringing the money in before the next Congress comes up with a new tax scheme that is less favorable. But why brag about the company’s “deep sense of responsibility”? It wasn’t quite deep enough to pay taxes at the old rates? But it is deep enough to pay some U.S. taxes at the new lower rates? Apple assumes that nobody will ask these (to me) obvious questions?

Maybe they can use some of the repatriated money to sit down with Honda and create a working version of Apple CarPlay?

Honda and Apple CarPlay


Today in our aviation class at MIT we are going to have a special talk by an expert from Avidyne about quality assurance and certification of software for avionics. To introduce the speaker I needed to create a sentence of the following form: “Look at this incredibly broken and failure-prone piece of software and contrast that with the near-bulletproof software behind your certified avionics.”

The best example turned out to be the Apple CarPlay system in our 2018 Honda Odyssey. It exhibits the following behavior:

  • plug in phone: crash about 10 percent of the time
  • arrive at the destination after navigating with Apple Maps: crash about 30 percent of the time
  • phone calls: about 1 call out of 10, play sound through car speakers, but continue to rely on the microphone on the iPhone 7 Plus (result: person on other side cannot hear)

There are lots more quirks. Also plenty of design flaws, e.g., if you click on “phone” from the steering wheel controls it will say “no phone connected”. You can see that your iPhone is actually plugged into USB! What does this mean? That the iPhone is not connected to the legacy Bluetooth system, but only to the fancy new CarPlay system. If you want to make calls you need to use the center touch screen.

I’m not quite able to abandon CarPlay because (a) I like to listen to Audible books and there are strange skips in Bluetooth audio (worked nicely in the 2014 Odyssey), and (b) the car does not have its own navi system so I want to use Apple Maps (one sure way to develop greater appreciation for Google!).

I’m wondering if this works for readers. Who else has CarPlay? In a Honda? Does it work reliably?

The car can accept over-WiFi updates, but none have been made available in the past 6 weeks.

Adverse Possession doctrine can be applied to our immigration debates?


I’ve been observing Americans fight in the media and on Facebook regarding immigration policy. A lot of people exhibit what seems at first like a logical inconsistency. They want laws to keep the majority of would-be immigrants out of the U.S. But they object to deporting people who are here in violation of immigration laws (cue “No Human Being is Illegal” T-shirt).

Deporting a person is certainly a dramatic step, but on the other hand immigration determines (1) the size of our population [and therefore how crowded our country will be, what kinds of traffic jam our grandchildren will experience, our impact on the planet, the intensity of competition for space to rent, etc.], and (2) the kind of society we will have (since the culture and values of the people are what make up “society”).

Why does it matter how long someone has been in the U.S. if he or she is in violation of the law? Is it that there comes a point where it is simply rude to kick someone out of the country?

I’m wondering if the legal concept of adverse possession can be applied here. Taking over someone else’s house is illegal. But if you do it for long enough (about 15 years in most states; Wikipedia has a map) then it becomes legal.

Most undocumented immigrants haven’t made any serious attempt to hide from the various police forces and government agencies that the U.S. operates. Thus this corresponds to the “open and notorious use” element of adverse possession.

Note that if we accept extending the idea of adverse possession to citizenship this restores logical consistency to a huge block of Americans.

Readers: What do you think? If we’re going to do absurd stuff such as claim that El Salvador is in some kind of temporary emergency for 16 years (it is slightly more dangerous than Detroit and significantly less dangerous than New Orleans) should we then lose the right to kick people out?

MLK, Jr. in the Age of Harvey


Today is the official Martin Luther King, Jr. birthday. Domestic Senior Management is slaving away in the pharma mines (their tax home and corporate heart are now in Ireland so they no longer celebrate American heroes, apparently). My Facebook feed is full people discussing the Hollywood Cleansing and other stuff that adult men and women purportedly did behind closed doors. I’m working where we would be now if MLK, Jr. were alive in this Age of Harvey. There were plenty of stories about MLK, Jr. and various women (example: FBI file). How would the opposing Vectors of Sanctimony sum out?

What makes Aziz Ansari “progressive” or “feminist”?


Two years ago I wrote “Equal Rights Amendment, Bristol Palin, and Aziz Ansari” and now Mr. Ansari is back in the news.

This Independent article opens with

Aziz Ansari, comedian, creator of one of the most socially progressive shows of our time and an ardent feminist campaigner has been accused of taking sexual advantage of a woman.

What makes this guy’s show “progressive”? And, if he is espousing the discredited “equality feminism” of the 1960s, how is he “an ardent feminist campaigner” by the standards of 2018?

[Separately, will the older thought criminals who wondered why fit young women couldn’t outrun the morbidly obese 65-year-old Harvey Weinstein now ask why a 23-year-old couldn’t get away from a slightly built attacker 5’6″ in height?]

To fix our health care system, we need only set up a planned economy


“Instead of Work Requirements, Why Not a Jobs Guarantee?” (Atlantic) is kind of fun. The author recognizes that the centrally planned Medicaid system now consumes more money than Americans want to spend (though many are unaware of it!). The proposed solution is a fully planned economy for a subset of Americans in which the government provides a job for anyone whom private industry doesn’t want to hire (e.g., at the new $15/hour minimum wage?).

[Separately, the January 19, 2018 issue of The Week carries an article about the UK’s National Health Service running out of cash, space, etc. It quotes some Brits saying that the NHS was designed for a country of hard-working laborers who died young and now is dealing with “sedentary workers who eat too much and exercise too little” and then keep living more or less indefinitely.]

Dedicated New York Times reader carbon footprint calculation project


The New York Times publishes an annual “52 Places to Go” list (for 2018).

Here’s an idea for a high school student project: calculate the carbon footprint of a person who does travel to these 52 places (starting from New York City and returning there at least once per month) and compare that to the carbon footprint of a person who lives in a median-income country. It looks as though Costa Rica, Mexico, and Malaysia are close to the median (source).

[Don’t forget that the calculation should include the carbon footprint of living in hotels in these various destinations; assume four days per destination, some travel time (what’s the carbon footprint of being in an airport terminal changing planes?), and some time back in Manhattan taking Uber everywhere (because the subway system has collapsed).]

Readers: Who has a high school-age kid that could get credit for this somehow? I would love to know the answer!


Invention of the cheese stick


Our two-year-old was happily snacking on a cheese stick in the minivan and Domestic Senior Management said “Whoever invented cheese sticks was a genius.” Google and Atlantic magazine to the rescue with “The Secret Life of String Cheese” (2014):

For these early pizza joints, [in the 1950s] Baker Cheese would make six-pound loaves or 20-pound blocks of cheese that restaurants would then cut and slice for their pizzas. But then Baker Cheese started getting requests for consumers who were addicted to the hot white melted mass of cheese on their pizzas. They wanted smaller units that they could eat as a snack.

“My grandfather was an innovator by nature,” Brian said. “He wanted to see if he could seek to do something with the product and packaging for these one-pound packages of mozzarella. Mozzarella was already shredded and cubed, but we didn’t want to compete and invest in that market.”

So Frank started experimenting in the factory with these one pound packages. Normally, mozzarella is molded into a shape from a continuous flow of cheese that is then shaped into a block or square. Frank wondered what would happen if he took this continuous flow of mozzarella and simply chopped them into strips?

“He would cut off strips and hand stretch them and roll them up and cut them into ropes, into little three, four, five inch pieces,” Brian said. “He’d soak them in the salt brine—this highly concentrated salt water—and he realized by doing it this way, cheese would have ‘stringing’ characteristics.”

That was in 1976. But it wasn’t until the a few years later, when string cheese had become cylindrified from its original twisted rope state and retail opportunities abounded, that string cheese catapulted from a local oddity to a national craze that caught on with the younger set. A key part of that was packaging, Brian said. Rather than stuffing 15-16 sticks into a one pound bag, they started making the individually wrapped mozzarella tubes we know today.

“With the one pound bags, parents would get [the entire bag] but have to throw them out because it would start to spoil,” Brian told me. “But we invested in vacuum packing to extend shelf life. Pretty quickly, kids thought it was cool and the adults liked it, too.”

A success for both Internet and traditional media!

Jumanji for helicopter pilots


We saw the remake of Jumanji last night and enjoyed it . With the Rock, Jack Black (with a female gender ID, but not for car insurance purposes), and Kevin Hart as leads, what’s not to like?

There is a UH-1 Huey for the heroes and an in-flight repair is required to the flight controls up at the lower swash plate (a “mesh plate” in the movie for some reason).

Accuracy: The three tubes connecting the cyclic and the collective to the swash plate are not actually independent functions. In other words, if one becomes disconnected it will not result in a loss of, say, collective control while cyclic control is maintained.

Readers: Who has seen the original? How does it compare to this one?

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