Note: The data here do not include settlers and construction in the eastern neighborhoods of Jerusalem, i.e., those areas of the West Bank that are included by Israel in the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem.

Data sources: Statistical abstract of Israel, various years; B’tselem report, By Hook or By Crook. Table 1 (based on Statistical abstract of Israel, various years). Data: 1, 2.

The increase of the Haredi (Jewish ultra-orthodox) population in Israel is a topic widely discussed in Israeli mass media and with considerable sway over Israeli politics both in the form of increasing Haredi electoral power and in the form of providing campaign and policy agendas for opposing forces.

Official statistics (social security annual report 2011, charts on pages 139, 140) indicate that the average Haredi family has about 6 children (with a decreasing trend over the last two decades) while non-Haredi Jewish families have about 2.5 children. Talk about demographic trends caused by the differential fertility rate, causing an imminent “Haredi  and Arabic” majority, is quite common. This is coupled with complaints about the fact that Haredi labor force participation rate is low, the fact that Haredim do not serve in the Israeli military and the fact that some Haredim receive stipends from the state as rabbinical students.

The chart below shows the proportion of votes received by Haredi parties in Israeli elections.


Data: text file, Google spreadsheet.

Whatever Marx and Engels may have thought about the future of the state, the real question is not whether a public power will be needed in a classless society, but whether that public power will constitute a problem. In other words, are there certain problems inherent in public power itself whether or not it is class power? I take it for granted that it is hopelessly naive to believe in an advanced socialist society administered by simple forms of direct and spontaneous democracy. It is difficult to avoid the conviction that even classless society will require some form of representation, and hence authority and even subordination of some people to others. That premise granted, it must be added that, whether or not one uses the term “state” to describe political and administrative power in a classless society, it seems unduly optimistic to believe that there can ever be a case in which power exercised by some people on behalf of others does not constitute a problem. Socialist political theory must, therefore, face the problems posed by representation, authority, and subordination, and the fact that their very existence makes possible the misappropriation of power.

Ellen Meiksins Wood

Free Will

April 12, 2012

I recently came across a site with some promise – Radical Philosophy magazine. The current issue has an interview with Noam Chomsky discussing, among other things, Free Will. I found that I do not agree, and to some extent do not understand, his position. This serves as an excuse to present my theory of Free Will.

I will grant at the outset that I am not well read on the subject. I have never read, for example, Descartes’s theories on this issue. My theory is very simple, but, I think, is quite serviceable in dealing with the limited issue of Free Will. It does not address the matter of consciousness, which I think is more complex.

My understanding is that:

Free Will is that part of a decision making process or action generation process that is inexplicable to the observer.

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November 26, 2011

It is fair to say, I think, that over the last 40 years or so there has been little progress in the quality of life of the average person in the West, and quite possibly there has been a deterioration. (The only indicator in which there has been steady progress, I think, is longevity.1)

Progressive ideology generally asserts that there is a wide variety of elements of conceivable and feasible policy and technology that would significantly improve average quality of life. It may be further assumed that the pursuit of any of those elements or any combination of those elements can be expected to be fruitful. To some extent this assumption – what may be termed the “parallel progress assumption” – seems to be implicit in much of present-day progressive activism: the agenda is usually very eclectic and often somewhat vague on specifics. While this is partly a tactic that is aimed at maintaining wide appeal, there is also the implication that as long as general principles are agreed to, laying out a detailed workplan is not necessary since progress can be made on any of many items quite independently of each other. While I accept the progressive assumption (i.e., that progress is possible) it appears to me that the parallel progress assumption is incorrect.
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Continuing the investigation initiated here, and applying the same notation.

Proposition 2:

For every l, l >= ES, P(S ≥ l) is maximized when q1 = ··· = qn-mz = q = ES / (n – mz), and qn – mz + 1 = ··· = qn = 0, for some mz.

That is, in the terminology of Proposition 1, for all non-trivial cases, mo = 0, and thus the probability of deviation is maximized by some Bernoulli variable (rather than a shifted Bernoulli variable).
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Let Bi, i = 1, …, n be independent Bernoulli variables with parameters qi, i = 1, …, n, respectively. Let S be their sum. For convenience, assume q1 ≥ q2 ≥ ··· ≥ qn. I wish to bound tightly from above the probability that S is greater or equal to some l, having the bound depend solely on ES = q1 + ··· + qn.

Clearly, if l ≤ ES, then the tightest bound is 1. This is attained by setting q1 = ··· = ql = 1.

This example shows that while the variance of S is maximized by setting qi = ES / n, i = 1, ···, n, at least for some values, l, P(S ≥ l) is maximized by having the Bi not identically distributed.

Proposition 1:

For every l, P(S ≥ l) is maximized when q1 = ··· = qmo = 1, qmo+1 = ··· = qn-mz = q, and qn-mz+1 = ··· = qn = 0, for some mo and mz, and for q = (ES – mo) / (n – mo – mz).


Assume that 1 > qi > qj > 0. Let S’ = S – Bi – Bj. Then

P(S ≥ l) = P(S’ ≥ l) + p1 (qi + qj – qi qj) + p2 qi qj,

where p1 = P(S’ = l – 1) and p2 = P(S’ = l – 2). Thus, keeping qi + qj fixed, but varying the proportion between them, P(S ≥ l) is a linear function of qi qj. Unless p1 = p2, P(S ≥ l) will be increased by varying qi and qj – with a maximum either when they are equal or when one of them is zero or one.

Therefore, P(S ≥ l) cannot be at a maximum if there exist 1 > qi > qj > 0, unless p1 = p2. But in that case, the same probability can be achieved by setting the parameter of Bi to be q’i = 0 (if qi + qj < 1) or q’i = 1 (otherwise), and the parameter of Bj to be q’j = qi + qj – q’i. Therefore, in that case, there would exist a set of parameters, q’1, …, q’n, that would achieve that same probability but with fewer parameters that are not equal to zero or one. Thus, in the set of parameter settings maximizing P(S ≥ l), there exists a solution – namely the one which maximizes the number of parameters with extreme values (zeros and ones) – in which there is only one non-extreme value. ¤

The next step is to investigate which specific parameter setting correspond to various combinations of l and ES.


August 17, 2011

The pursuit of the definition of “terrorism” has proven to be a formidable task that is personally useful for some. The standard dictionary definition,

the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes,

clearly conflicts with accepted usage, for if it were believed then any military activity, or even police activity, would constitute a terrorist activity. Other definitions come closer to the intended meaning:

Terrorism is defined as political violence in an asymmetrical conflict that is designed to induce terror and psychic fear (sometimes indiscriminate) through the violent victimization and destruction of noncombatant targets (sometimes iconic symbols). [Attributed by Wikipedia to Carsten Bockstette.]

Obviously, military activity would often fall within those terms if it were not for the “asymmetrical” condition. Such activity, when considered legitimate by the speaker, is never referred to as “terrorism”. Read the rest of this entry »

Formal analysis

June 18, 2011

Keynes is rather dismissive of what he calls ‘“mathematical” economics’. The following passage is from chapter 21 of The General Theory:

The object of our analysis is, not to provide a machine, or method of blind manipulation, which will furnish an infallible answer, but to provide ourselves with an organised and orderly method of thinking out particular problems; and, after we have reached a provisional conclusion by isolating the complicating factors one by one, we then have to go back on ourselves and allow, as well as we can, for the probable interactions of the factors amongst themselves. This is the nature of economic thinking. Any other way of applying our formal principles of thought (without which, however, we shall be lost in the wood) will lead us into error. It is a great fault of symbolic pseudo-mathematical methods of formalising a system of economic analysis, such as we shall set down in section vi of this chapter, that they expressly assume strict independence between the factors involved and lose all their cogency and authority if this hypothesis is disallowed; whereas, in ordinary discourse, where we are not blindly manipulating but know all the time what we are doing and what the words mean, we can keep “at the back of our heads” the necessary reserves and qualifications and the adjustments which we shall have to make later on, in a way in which we cannot keep complicated partial differentials “at the back” of several pages of algebra which assume that they all vanish. Too large a proportion of recent “mathematical” economics are mere concoctions, as imprecise as the initial assumptions they rest on, which allow the author to lose sight of the complexities and interdependencies of the real world in a maze of pretentious and unhelpful symbols.

There is much truth in the above, I think, and it is truth that applies not only to “economic thinking” but to any kind of thinking that relies on formalization. Statistical analysis is plagued with this kind of problems. Keynes does lay too much stress on the matter of interaction between factors. The problem with formal methods is not particularly with neglecting various effects – it is that they simply are false in various ways (neglecting various effects is only one of the sources of falsehoods). Informal methods have the same problem, of course – and in addition have problems associated with informality.

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