Our Fantasy “Intellectual” Team dark horses

My dad and I have one of the ten teams competing in Arnold Kling’s “Fantasy Intellectual* Team” challenge.

Arnold has published a list of the drafted “players” and two picks (from among 150) seem to have raised the most eyebrows, both of which “belong” to our team, Clan Graham:

Joe Rogan (our 1st pick)
Donald Trump (our 3rd pick)

What were we thinking? Well, I’ll answer that with a quote from Nassim Taleb**:

“There are two types of people: those who try to win and those who try to win arguments. They are never the same.”

Let me explain why these two controversial picks are going to earn us serious points and lead to the decimation of our competition. Per Arnold’s rules, players earn points for Steel-manning, having the Memes they created be cited by others, and making public Bets.

Rogan, which is obvious to anyone who has listened to him more than a handful of times, is a generous “Steel-manner.” We think we can count on one point for every three episodes—that’s at least a point a week for thirteen weeks.

And I am genuinely curious to know what other living person has created more memes than DJT. He is the originator of dozens, from Covfefe to Fake News. I expect he’ll earn us at least ten points during the season, but I wouldn’t be surprised to get over 15.

The best competitor we could think of for the third category (Bets) was Bryan Caplan, but even he is not all that prolific with his betting, so he was much lower on our pick list. Another team snagged him in the fourth round.

* Given the rules for awarding points, I will be putting “intellectual” in quotations when referring to the competition; this will be more of contest over citation frequency than a ranking of intellect.
** We wanted NNT, also for his meme-strength, but someone else got him first.

More absolution, more grace

How many of today’s desperate adults were permanently ensnared by their youthful mistakes? Criminal records, credit scores, transcripts, email or social media gaffes—these never disappear.

Fifty years ago, how much easier was it to escape the indiscretions of one’s younger self by simply moving to a new town? Today, can anyone really make amends and leave the past behind? How much have the systems we’ve created to facilitate trust among strangers ended up raising the stakes of professional and social failure to the point where people can almost never escape their pasts? Lately, I’ve been wondering if the systems that make it impossible for us to forget also make it more difficult for us to forgive.

How many more doors are closed by an arrest—whether justified or not—today versus fifty years ago? There has always been a vortex pulling at desperate people. How much stronger is it today?

Failures of all kinds now follow us so closely. A young man’s teenage indiscretion makes him ineligible for a job when, five years later, he is a young father trying to support a family. A young woman’s financial mistake makes her ineligible for credit five years later as she is trying to pay for daycare so she can go to work.

What happens to people’s hopes and aspirations when their prospects for institutional absolution are so meaningfully abridged? Bitterness, anger, resignation? And for those who have thus far avoided blemishes on their indelible record, do they become less inclined to take professional or entrepreneurial risks?

On a trivial scale, I think about all the extra hoops a self-employed person must jump through to qualify for a mortgage. Lending institutions, increasingly governed by federal lending requirements, love W-2 income but loathe lumpy K-1 income. While this little annoyance can be bothersome to entrepreneurs, I can’t imagine how much more difficult are the institutionally governed lives of people who carry with them tainted records.

When gatekeepers are people, they can use their judgment. An empowered underwriter can see the merits in individuals that transcend their indelible record and make them worthy of an open door. They might even go with their gut and take a chance on someone. And from time to time, they might even offer grace in the form of second (or third or fourth) chances.

But institutional checklists don’t do that. It’s a binary yea or nay: Arrest record? The rules say no. Credit score below 600? The rules say no. No diploma? The rules say no. All three? The rules definitely say no!

What happens to a people who’s institutions effectively brand individuals for the mistakes they made as teenagers or young adults? Over time, I suppose successful conformists will gain more and more influence. Would-be pioneers will find the risks of non-conformity getting more and more intimidating and many will react by taking fewer and fewer professional risks. A smaller number will embrace those risks—sometimes they’ll achieve outstanding rewards but more often they’ll suffer cataclysmic defeat. What does this do to our engines of prosperity?

And worst of all, in a world where people’s records follow them everywhere, those born into at-risk communities—where it is far easier to stumble into a transgression—will find it more and more difficult to make better lives for themselves. The percentage who are born into intergenerational poverty will grow and the percentage who escape it will shrink. And if actuarial tables predict darker and darker futures for them, will the institutionalized bias against them grow? Will there be less grace extended to them?

We instinctively recoil at how the CCP records every behavior of every Chinese citizen and grants or withholds opportunity based on a person’s history of conformity. Gratefully, that’s not what we have here in the United States—but what we do have isn’t entirely not that.

For the last few days, I’ve been reading Isaac Bailey’s 2018 memoir, My Brother Moochie. The book is about a lot of things: a young man escaping poverty and violence, a brother being engulfed by it, prejudice and discrimination, family and loyalty.

Near the end, Bailey writes, “[We live in a] world that punishes people for having been punished.” That is so painfully true. Do we want that world?

Here’s hoping for less institutionalized door-shutting and a move back toward letting good people leave their difficult pasts behind them. And here’s hoping for systems that grant more people the agency to extend opportunity to the non-conformers, to extend absolution to those who deserve it, and to extend grace to those who might not.

More bad news for colleges

Google is launching affordable Career Certificates. From Inc.

Although traditional degrees are still deemed necessary in fields like law or medicine, more and more employers have signaled that they no longer view them as a must-have—Apple, IBM, and Google, just to name a few.

So, if you’re an employer or hiring manager, ask yourself:

Is it time to rewrite our own job descriptions, to eliminate the requirement of a four-year degree?
Can we take advantage of educational programs like those offered by Google and other online platforms?
Or, better yet, do we have the resources to design our own online training, to help increase our pool of qualified candidates and simultaneously provide an additional source of revenue for our business?
Remember: Nowadays, it’s all about skills. Not degrees.

College boosters will argue that it is not merely “all about skills” and that “the college experience” matters enormously. This is also what college marketers will argue, and it is true. The relationships you develop, the living on your own(ish), the common bond, the parties, etc. These may not be the features that colleges are selling, but they (and especially and above all, the status associated with the certificate) are the features consumers are buying.

Also, colleges have been the go-to HR filters for big companies for a long time. While PWC, Google, and tech companies in general will be (and have been) quick to open themselves up to degree-less hires with demonstrable skills and/or promising attributes, I can’t imagine larger and more conservative employers abandoning their reliance on colleges for their first round of candidate filtering anytime soon. But even so, I bet that given the choice between two otherwise similar college grads, they’ll choose the one who holds the Google Career Certificate.

I wonder how big a drop in enrollment colleges can suffer before they become insolvent? Is it less than 10%? Covid, a heightened appreciation for getting an ROI on the money and the 4+ years, and the spotlight shining on all the compelling college alternatives (both new and rediscovered)—all of these developments must have college administrators concerned. I suspect the best of them will innovate, adapt, and bring something new and wonderful to the market, and the rest (which will be the majority) will fail.