Something I learned from the book "shortest way home"

Posted by Yuling Yao on Jan 06, 2020.       Tag: politics  

A new book by the interesting candidate, Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

manipulating millions of data

Buttigieg was in charge of data analysis in McKinsey for grocery prices. According to pete, he has acquired the capability of not only computer programming, which refers to being able to access Microsoft Excel and Microsoft Access, but also the ability to understand the nature of data, which is defined as

By manipulating millions of data, I(Pete) could weave stories about possible future, and gather insights on which ideas were good or bad. I could simulate millions of shoppers going up and down the aisles of thousands of stores, and in my mind I pictured their habits shifting as a well-placed price cut subtle changed their perception of our clients as a better place to shop.

First, in terms of analytical linguistics, the verb manipulating seems inappropriate. I think Pete actually means “analyzing”. After all, it is McKinsey in Chicago, not in Ukraine. I shouldn’t be picky but wait, Pete, you graduate first grade from Oxford PPE program!

Second, it is a clear overstatement that any data analysis could even weave stories about possible future in this particular context. I guess he effectively fitted a factor model, but any macro-level prediction seems too noisy to be even useful, and I did not find any appropriate treatment in his analysis if he made a causal assert in the very beginning. If some consulting company told you that they could grant you insights on which ideas were good or bad, chances that they would have been both overfitting and misunderstood causal inference.

Sharpe ratio of his first move

Buttigieg’s career starts from challenging Richard Murdock for state treasurer. It is a strategically intelligent move: Murdock was a stubbornly-extreme conservative and had recently failled a lawsuit on the bankruptcy of Chrysler.

If the political market is efficient, such arbitrage opportunity should have been picked up and filled through. But it is not: there was no Democratic candidate against Murdock in his 2010 reelection. Humm, the Sharpe ratio of such a campaign is arguably extremely high.

When to declare

Buttigieg claims that:

In American political culture, you are not supposed to admit you have any interest in running for office until the movement you declare. … (while in the UK) I would often meet students who made it clear they would stand for Parliament at the earliest opportunity.


A politician’s account of how he first came to run for office is supposed to begin with a ritual mention of having been urged to do so by others.

These does not sound true to me. Maybe Washington was once urged by Jefferson to become the president, but I have very little reason to make sense of such romantic arcadianism in this modern individualism America. We arguably knew either Joe or John Kennedy would one day be the president in day zero, much earlier than we knew anything about whether Duke of Windsor would resign.

I am wondering, back to the JFK time, whether the folks would have the same concern that the life trajectory of that charming young president seemed too well-calculated and calibrated, to the extent that was not even pronounced sincerely. If running MCMC and hit the target region with only 20 steps and no rejection sounds cheating, it is cheating.

Is this purely envy against early career achievement? It is the persecutory delusion that we develop in the subconscious that an abnormally straight trajectory is associated with all conspiracy theories?

Even so, unfortunately, this could one day be a burden for Major Pete.