THE UNABOMBER'S INSIGHT, THE ODDS AGAINST ALBERT BELLE, RENEGADE ECONOMISTS, AND OTHER MATTERS.
By DANIEL SELIGMAN REPORTER ASSOCIATE AMY R. KOVER

(FORTUNE Magazine) – CREEPSPEAK REVISITED

As evidenced in this space last fall (October 30), your servant has spent a lot of time brooding over the Unabomber's manifesto and now feels a need to return to this amazing document. Also to say something mildly favorable about its even more amazing author.

It is true that alleged author Ted Kaczynski Jr. is in many ways even creepier than the character one imagined while hovering over the manifesto. He turns out to be not only a loner and serial killer with serious personal-hygiene problems but also an utter hypocrite about money. To appreciate the hypocrisy, you need to return to the manifesto's long, involved indictment of a technological society in which nobody feels fulfilled because life is too easy and the physical necessities--food, water, clothing, shelter--have been taken care of. The argument is that even today people need the survival challenges once faced by families on the frontier.

And so, pursuant to this elaborate schema, Ted went off to live in the mountains in his own personally built cabin and eat the vegetables he'd grown and the rabbits he'd shot. But we also see that he kept running out of money and regularly received gifts or loans from his not terribly well-off brother, back home in technological Schenectady, New York, to get him through the year. The Unabomber as a remittance man does come as a surprise.

And yet there is one line of argument in the manifesto that holds up quite well on a second reading. One cherishes the Unabomber's passages on the psychology of modern leftism.

Mentioned briefly in our account last fall but not well reported in the media generally--possibly because it seems so anomalous in an enemy of the establishment--is the Unabomber's detestation of leftists. Presumably he came to this position via various unpleasant encounters on the campuses he had frequented. Whatever its genesis, his rage against left-liberal characters has led him to think a lot about their psychology and "totalitarian" (his word) impulses.

The question he zeroes in on is, What's really happening in the heads of all the politically correct fanatics who endlessly find new things to be outraged over? Why are they forever changing the rules about behavior that should be banned and terms that are unacceptable in talking about women, minorities, old folks, even pets? (He mentions the animal-rights activists who wish to replace that term with "animal companion.") His utterly persuasive (around our house) answer is that leftists have learned that these rules enable one to intimidate and control others. They are power plays. "Suppose," he asks near the end of the manifesto, "you asked leftists to make a list of all the things that were wrong with society, and then suppose you instituted every social change that they demanded. It is safe to say that within a couple of years, the majority of leftists would find something new to complain about...The leftist is motivated less by distress at society's ills than by the need to satisfy his drive for power."

Hey, just because you are depraved, creepy, and unwashed doesn't mean you can't come up with an insight now and then.

ASK MR. STATISTICS

Dear Statistissimo: The chaps here at the Vegas Sports Book & Deli, just off the strip, got something new to chew on the other day, and I do not allude to the turkey pastrami. My subject is the obviously-soon-to-emerge market in home-run betting. I am talking dingers. Four-ply swats. Old Goldies. (Surely you have not forgotten the days of yesteryear when Old Gold cigarettes sponsored Red Barber doing the Dodgers.) What the guys are masticating on and salivating over is that headline in the New York Times the day before the season opened, tremulously stating: 62 HOMERS A POSSIBILITY IN A 162-GAME SEASON. Nevada translation: Action-inclined individuals have something else to bet on. But what are the odds on this event? Scribe Murray Chass went on forever in the story about seven sluggers--Albert Belle of the Cleveland Indians, Barry Bonds and Matt Williams of the San Francisco Giants, Frank Thomas of the Chicago White Sox, Ken Griffey Jr. of the Seattle Mariners, Dante Bichette of the Colorado Rockies, and Mark McGwire of the Oakland Athletics--all of whom were posited to have some kind of shot at breaking Roger Maris's 61-swat record. But just as you'd expect from a lofty-minded Sulzbergerite, Murray never got to the betting question: What, exactly, are the odds on 62 or more homeric feats by one or more of those guys? What good is it to say there's a "possibility"? Please supply a more quantitative answer instamente, as our operating license from the Nevada Gaming Control Board is expected in the mail any day now and could well arrive even before the county health department decides to waive inspection of our new mouseless kitchen. HOPING TO HIT IT BIG

Dear Mouse/Hope/Less: Our analysis puts the probability of one of the above-referenced long-ballers' hitting 62 or more shots at 18.4%. In other words, the odds against it are over 4 to 1.

The likelihood of a player's hitting any number of home runs is a function of (a) his expected number of times at bat and (b) the probability of his dinging in any one time at bat. Using data from the last two (strike-shortened) seasons, we observe that the seven suspects present a wide range of values for both (a) and (b). McGwire of Oakland has the highest probability of homering in a given time at bat (10.6%) but, because of recurrent injuries, the lowest likelihood of getting up to the plate; if he misses as many games as he did in 1994-95, his expected plate appearances will number only 284 and his most likely number of home runs is only 30. True to form, McGwire is starting off the 1996 season with a foot injury that will keep him out for a while. At the other end of the spectrum, durable Dante Bichette of the Rockies has the most expected times at bat this year (660), but he creates Old Goldies only 6.3% of the time, so his likeliest total is 42 home runs. The best bet by far to break the record is Belle of Cleveland, who hits home runs in 8.98% of his plate appearances and is expected to get up there 604 times in 1996. All of which tells us that 54 home runs is Albert's single likeliest total.

But that's just Belle's "expected" outcome. What about the outcome wherein Albert gets hot or lucky and soars well above 54? Here we reach for the Lotus 1-2-3 @BINOMIAL function, invaluable to oddsters contemplating the probability of various numbers of "successes" in specified numbers of trials given a stated probability of success in any one trial. Inputting 62, 604, and .0898--and also informing @BINOMIAL that we are interested in the chance of "at least 62" and not "exactly 62"--we instantly get the answer. There is a 15% chance that Belle will ding 62 or more this year.

Our next-best prospect is Frank Thomas of the White Sox, who has a 3% chance of making it. None of the other guys has even a 1% chance. Combined probability for the whole gang is the aforementioned 18.4%. A casino deli offering 4 to 1 would have a house edge of 8.7%, about average for slot machines, but with lots more heartburn.

FANTASIA 101

Accompanied by two goggle-eyed grandchildren seeing 101 Dalmatians for maybe the fourth time, your servant recalls having a terrific time at the movies that afternoon several years ago. And yet he somehow doubts the sequel was necessary.

That paragraph is what we journalism professionals call a "trick lead." You the reader have been set up to think we will now carry on about the new Disney live-action treatment of 101 Dalmatians, starring Glenn Close as Cruella DeVil, the villainess who stops at nothing in her fiendish pursuit of a Dalmatian fur coat. But this new production, expected to be even more frightening than the original cartoon version, is not the subject of the present item. Our subject is an even scarier sequel: the one in which 101 human economists go off their rockers and sign a statement supporting a big increase in the minimum wage. Or did you see that coming?

As esteemed colleague Rob Norton points out in his Reality Check column, the Administration proposal is all politics and no economics. So how did Clinton get 101 big-league economists to endorse his program (a two-year increase in the minimum wage from $4.25 to $5.15 an hour) and pronounce it a plausible way to help poor people? How could they have done it? Are they trying to repeal Economics 101? Looking down the list of names, one instantly observes a laborish-leftish tilt to the assemblage. Still, the signatories include three Nobel laureates--Kenneth Arrow, Lawrence Klein, and James Tobin--and seven past presidents of the American Economic Association. All of them are now standing there rejecting what another Nobel laureate with whom we have personally played tennis calls "the most basic law in economics...that a rise in the cost of labor, capital, or other inputs lowers demand for that input." That's Gary Becker of the University of Chicago, writing about the disemployment effects of the minimum wage.

To be slightly fair to the 101 renegades, the document they signed last October does not exactly deny that an increase in the minimum wage will result in decreased employment. But it plays down the job losses, stating that recent studies suggest they would be "negligible or small." Some fans of the 101, e.g., New York Times editorial writers, posit that the losses would come to fewer than 100,000 jobs a year. (Estimates by nonfans run around 400,000.) Some other fans appear to believe there would be no job losses at all--that employers would just go along absent-mindedly, not noticing that minimum-wage pay was 21% higher. A recent Wall Street Journal op-ed article by several Administration economic policymakers states firmly: "Every member of the President's economic team believes this step [raising the minimum to $5.15] will increase wages without costing jobs."

It's weird. As the Journal itself later pointed out, one of the guys signing his name to those words was Joe Stiglitz, now chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, whose 1993 textbook avers: "A higher minimum wage does not seem a particularly useful way to help the poor." And the 101 economists include some who have pointed to big problems with the minimum wage in the past. Nobel laureate Tobin: "People who lack the capacity to earn a decent living need to be helped, but they will not be helped by minimum-wage laws...or other devices which seek to compel employers to pay them more than their work is worth. The most likely outcome of such regulations is that the intended beneficiaries are not employed at all." Kevin Lang of Boston University, also a 101er, had produced a booklet earlier in 1995 arguing that minimum-wage laws lead to "laying off or not hiring the least productive workers." In one of Lang's scenarios, students working part time replace uneducated characters trying to hang on to full-time jobs.

Cruella, move over.

REPORTER ASSOCIATE Amy R. Kover