Author Archives: Editor of the Fabius Maximus website

About Editor of the Fabius Maximus website

Larry Kummer. See the authors page for more information about me, my co-authors,and the Fabius Maximus website.

Fact-checking: useful, until it becomes politically biased trivial pursuit

Summary: Sunday’s debate shows the limit of fact-checking, even in those rare cases where it’s politically neutral. While useful in small doses, it boosts our obsession with the trivial aspects of the race and obscures the great issues at stake. Also, it’s seldom done with a neutral viewpoint — becoming glib defenses of the established narrative.

Truth, not Pravda, Will Make You Free


Fact-checking is useful but has become part of our dysfunctional political campaigns. They turn the debates into trivial pursuit, with fact-checking a fun, easy, cheap role for journalists. The product is entertaining and superficial — the hallmarks of modern election coverage. The deeper issues are lost in the chatter about sound bites and personalities. No surprise that only 55% of Americans vote for president. For example see Bloomberg’s Fact Checker’s summary of the debate

“The candidates spent a good deal of time on stop-and-frisk, racial issues, Obama birther matter, ISIS and nuclear weapons. Trump appeared to be rambling on a number of questions, especially on foreign policy. Clinton made points on the tax returns, with Trump not ending questions about whether he failed to pay any federal income taxes — and not offering a clear reason as to why he’s not releasing his tax returns.”

Where are the discussions of resurgent populism and progressivism, of long-suppressed issues such as mass immigration and globalization, and of vital questions such how to handle our failed wars since 9/11?

The major media’s fact checkers (see Bloomberg and the AP) caught some of Clinton’s whoppers (her flip-flopping about the Trans-Pacific Partnership), missed some (lying about Iran’s nuclear program; see tomorrow’s post), and displayed astonishing bias about others. Let’s look as examples of the bias.

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Why Trump thrives despite the news media’s attacks

Summary: Large numbers of journalists have joined the Clinton campaign. They pay for their political adventure with the credibility of their profession. So far their attacks on Trump have been in vain. Here’s why they have failed.

Trust broken

Paul Krugman speaks with intelligence and wit for the US liberal community. Blind to populism, he cannot understand why Clinton and Trump are almost tied in the polls. But he has found an answer, explained in a series of posts. He blames the press. “Why Are The Media Objectively Pro-Trump?” “How Did The Race Get Close?” “The Falsity of False Equivalence“.

That seems odd, since the vast majority of US journalists visibly hate Trump as they have few major political figures in the modern era. But Krugman and others call for journalists to attack Trump even more strongly. That seems odd. Where can they go after calling Trump an authoritarian, fascist, racist, and sexist Hitler? However, they are trying.

However the law of equivalent exchange tells us that we cannot get something for nothing. We must give something of equal value to gain anything. Journalists enlist in the war against Trump, what have they given up in return? Their credibility with Republicans. They become Clinton’s shocktroops; the cost is another hit to the credibility of their profession.

See this graph from Gallup’s dirge for the news media: “Americans’ Trust in Mass Media Sinks to New Low“. In one year Republicans’ trust in the news media has fallen from 32% to 14%. What will it be in the 2017 survey?

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Everything you need to know about yesterday’s debate

Summary: Here is everything you need to know about yesterday’s debate, beyond the trivialities that filled the 90 minutes. These are things your favorite news media might not have mentioned.

Raphael: Plato & Aristotle

A group photo during the debate.



  1. South Park shows us a great debate.
  2. The candidates lie to us!
  3. Compare these debates with real debates.
  4. Do debates matter?
  5. Reactions to the debate.
  6. Conclusions.
  7. For More Information.


Debate between Giant Douche and Turd Sandwich .
Prophecy by South Park, aired on 27 October 2004.
Just like our debates, but more entertaining.

Pearl clutching

(2)  The candidates lie to us!

There is much pearl-clutching by the chattering classes about the lies told by the candidates. This is quite absurd, or perhaps just decades too late for outrage. Our candidates lie to us because they are smart. They have learned that we accept lies (perhaps we even prefer lies). Look at the big list of lies since 1940 by our leaders — all successful, for none of which we inflicted retribution.

When we no longer tolerate lies from our leaders, then our leaders will lie to us less often.

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Ignore the skeptics. America can still grow.

Summary: Can America no longer grow? Have we exhausted the potential for future technological progress? Let’s look at how far we have come and ask if the engines of progress that produced these wonders can no longer work for us.

“Innovation of new forms of society and technology. It is the key to our progress. It has allowed us to evolve from naked hunter-gatherers to the dominant species on this planet. This process is slow, normally taking hundreds or even thousands of years. But occasionally evolution leaps forward.”
— A slight tweak of Professor Xavier’s words from the title sequence of the movie “X-men”. These events are called “singularities”.

Economic growth



  1. Has humanity’s growth story ended?
  2. The singularities in our past.
  3. The singularities in our future
  4. For More Information.

(1) Has humanity’s growth story ended?

“I wonder if and when the law of large numbers begins to be relevant to that growth in the same way it’s relevant to a company’s growth rate. Should we expect growth rates to decline as world GDP gets larger?”
— An important question by Jeff Harbaugh in a comment to a previous post.

One reason Trump’s campaign has surprisingly caught fire is his simple call to “Make America Great”. No matter how delusionally conceived, at least he appears to realize the importance of fighting the multi-decade long slowing of America’s economic growth. Upper middle class greens mutter about the wrongness of growth. America’s poor grow restive as they see their chances for social mobility fade away. Others just despair, believing that rapid growth lies in our past but not in our future.

(2) The singularities in our past.

Our world is the result of singularities in our past. Fire, pottery, agriculture, metals, writing — giant leaps forward in technology. Too see how far humanity has come, imagine how our society would appear to our stone-age ancestors of 40,000 years ago. For one answer see “Cro-Magnon Communication” by Brad Delong (Prof Economics, Berkeley).

“The Twelve-Year-Old is on strike. She refuses to write more than one paragraph of a letter detailing her day to our pre-Neolithic Revolution ancestors. She says the idea is stupid because it cannot be done — the Singularity is not in our future but in our past. Nevertheless it is quite a good first paragraph:

“I was jigging to my iPod when my friend Noelle rode up in the front passenger seat of her family’s minivan. ‘Will your parents let you come see “Wedding Crashers“?’ she asked.”

“She has a point. ‘Jigging’ can be gotten across. And the East African Plains Ape social dynamics can be gotten across — friends, marriage, excessive parental control of the activities of adolescent females, et cetera (although not all of them: the idea of a “wedding crasher” is a very complicated concept to get across to a hunter-gatherer who has lived in a group of 40 or so her whole life).

“But the rest? Maybe I should have reversed the assignment: What kinds of science fiction would hunter-gatherers have written?”

For another perspective, shift forward in time to ~12,000 years ago, before the Neolithic singularity (e.g., the wheel, agriculture). Here is Pat Mathews’ entry in Brad Delong’s Early Holocene Epoch science fiction contest, with our distant ancestors describing a future unimaginable to them.

Shaman:  I have foreseen a time when everybody can have all the meat, fat, and sweet stuff they can eat, and they all get fat.
Chief:        You have had a vision of the Happy Hunting Grounds.
Shaman:  It is considered a great and horrible problem! People go out of their way to eat leaves and grass and grains, and work very hard to look lean and brown.
Chief:        You’ve been eating too many of those strange mushrooms, and are seeing everything backward.

Shift forward again to our most recent singularity — “the industrial revolution”. It ended in 1918. It was a singularity in ever sense, as explained in “The Singularity in Our Past Light-Cone” by Cosma Shalizi (asst prof of Statistics at Carnegie Mellon). To see its impact, consider life before it reshaped the world: in the late 14th century. Then the English pound was worth 4/5ths of a pound of silver, equivalent to roughly $175 today. When reading this, remember that the median household income in the US is now $52,000.

“What was 14th century money worth in today’s dollars? That’s tricky, because it depends on what you were buying. In the second half of the 14th century, a pound sterling would support the lifestyle of a single peasant laborer for half a year {$350/yr}, or that of a knight for a week {$9,100/yr}.

“Or it could buy three changes of clothing for a teenage page (underclothes not included), twelve pounds of sugar, a carthorse, two cows, an inexpensive bible, ten ordinary books, rent a craftsman’s townhouse for a year, or hire a servant for six months.

“It should be obvious from the above list that the conversion rate depends a great deal on what you buy. A husbandman or yeoman servant spent most of his budget on food and clothing, which have become relatively cheap since the industrial revolution. For that basket of goods, a pound sterling might buy $300 worth of goods today.

“On the other hand, a knight or noble might spend half of his income on servants, and much of the rest on handmade luxury goods, things that were relatively cheap then and expensive today. For that bundle of goods, a pound might buy $3,000 dollars worth of goods today.”

Future Industry

(3)  The singularities in our future.

We have made great progress. But as Carl Sagan said, science is just a candle in the dark. We stand in a small circle of knowledge surrounded by the greater unknown. Expanding that circle can bring wonders to our descendants as amazing to us as our lives would be to our ancestors.

Although tech progress has slowed during the past few decades, there is no reason to assume that the tools which have brought us this far will fail us in the future. The good news is that a new industrial revolution might have already begun, based on breakthroughs in smart machines, new energy sources, genetic engineering, and new materials. These could produce improvements in living standards as large as those of past revolutions.

But history shows that technological breakthroughs are not natural. The ancient world had conditions similar to those of pre-modern Europe, yet nothing came of it. To restart growth and avoid a dead end like that of the ancient world, we must re-build our social engines of scientific and technological progress. Schools, universities, the patent office, the government’s R&D agencies — it’s a long list, most of which are neglected in modern America.

Too bad such things are ignored in campaign 2016. Instead we get a circus. But we can change that, if we have the will to do so.

Yes since we found out
Since we found out
That anything could happen
Anything could happen
Anything could happen
Anything could happen
Anything could happen
Anything could happen.

— A powerful insight in Ellie Goulding’s song “Anything Could Happen.”

For More Information

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about the singularity, about secular stagnation, about the new industrial revolution just starting, and especially these…

  1. Has America grown old, and can no longer grow? Or are wonders like the singularity in our future? — About the different kinds of singularities.
  2. Ben Bernanke sees the great slowdown in technological progress.
  3. Do we face secular stagnation or a new industrial revolution?
  4. Looking at technological singularities in our past & future.

Books about the new industrial revolution.

Sngularity sky

Before Trump, top economist Joseph Stiglitz warned about globalization

Summary: Lost amidst his bombast and folly, Trump has challenged key bipartisan policies of US elites. That is why they hate and fear him. That’s why attacks on him seldom mention issues, focusing instead on his character and language. Better to spin fantasy (he’s a Hitler) then remind the public that Trump dislikes globalization and mass immigration — as so many of them do. Criticism of globalization is Trump’s most dangerous theme; here anthropologist Marximilian Forte reminds us that some top economists agree with him (see the links at the end for other examples).

World in the palm of my hand

Globalization: Beyond Discontent

By Maximilian C. Forte.
From Zero Anthropology.
Reposted with his generous permission.

Review of Globalization and Its
by Joseph E. Stiglitz (2003).

“Today, globalization is being challenged around the world….for millions of people globalization has not worked. Many have actually been made worse off, as they have seen their jobs destroyed and their lives become more insecure. They have felt increasingly powerless against forces beyond their control. They have seen their democracies undermined, their cultures eroded”. (Page 248.)

There are at least two main reasons that past reformist approaches to IMF-imposed austerity measures, market deregulation, trade liberalization, and privatization — some of the core tenets of neoliberal globalization — have largely fizzled out. One is that institutions such as the IMF are thoroughly undemocratic, unrepresentative and accountable, just as they are maniacally ideological, unresponsive and thus resistant to change.

Another is that some of the proposed reforms are almost worse than what is to be reformed — or they can seem that way with the passage of time. One example would be the proposition that if “free trade” has been unfair to the developing world (because it is not free when developed nations maintain subsidies, tariffs, and other domestic protections), then the best way to have fair trade is to make it free absolutely everywhere. What this now looks like is a generalization of misery — but it’s “fair” if it’s evenly spread. As massive job losses have swept the “developed world” in a rising tide of de-industrialization with the advent of a battery of free trade agreements, few remain who would call this a positive step forward.

Re-reading Joseph E. Stiglitz’s 2003 book Globalization and Its Discontents in the present context, might provoke the realization that whatever chance there was for reforming neoliberal globalization, that time has passed. What Stiglitz calls globalization (what others call neoliberalism) was something that he saw as worth salvaging, even if acknowledging how vastly unfair, unequal, and ideologically-driven it has been.

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