Take a hard look at the graph above. I’ve discussed marriage and family structure a lot here at Difficult Run. The social science is pretty clear: marriage matters for children’s well-being. Concerns over immigration often revolve around culture: do immigrants assimilate well? What kind of foreign cultural elements are they bringing with them? I’ve addressed cultural diversitybefore. And according to the data above, intact families are yet another positive contribution made by immigrants. According to researcher Nicholas Zill,
Indeed, the latest data from the Census Bureau on the family living arrangements of U.S. children show that 75 percent of immigrant children live in married-couple families, compared to 61 percent of children of U.S.-born parents. The figure is the same for immigrant children who were born in this country as for those who were foreign-born.4 Children of immigrants are less likely than native children to be living with divorced, separated, or never-married mothers: 14 percent lived with their mothers only, compared to 26 percent of children of U.S.-born parents.
Furthermore, immigrant parents stay together despite the fact that many are living below or close to the poverty line. Half of U.S.-born children of recent immigrants are in families that are poor or near poor, with nearly a quarter living in families below the poverty line. The circumstances of foreign-born immigrant children are worse: 57 percent are in families that are poor or near poor, with 29 percent living in families below poverty. The comparable figures for native children are 38 percent in poor or near-poor families, with 18 percent below the poverty line.
Zill concludes that “we should…recognize the strong work ethic and robust family values that many immigrant families exemplify. Far from undermining our traditions, they may be showing us the way to “make America great again.””
I guess it’s a work of political theory, but for the most part it reads as history with a dash of evolutionary psychology. In exploring the origins of political order, Fukuyama starts by going way, way back before pre-history to make his first essential point: biology matters. In this regard, he’s echoing Steven Pinker’s The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature, but the relationship here is fairly specific. According to Fukuyama, the primary problem with thinkers like Rousseau or Hobbes isn’t that they got the particulars of pre-social humanity right, it’s that the concept of “pre-social humanity” is an oxymoron. Humans, as the expression goes, are social animals. And that means we’re political animals. Politics didn’t come later–after the invention of writing or agriculture –but have been there from the beginning, inextricably intertwined with our development of speech. So, from this “biological foundation of politics”, Fukuuama draws the following propositions:
human beings never existed in a presocial state
natural human sociability is built around two principles, kin selection and reciprocal altruism
human beings have an innate propensity for creating and following norms or rules
human beings have a natural propensity for violence
human beings by nature desire not just material resources but also recognition
After laying this groundwork, Fukuyama than goes on to describe in broad strokes the evolution of human societies from bands to tribes to states. He invokes principles from biological evolution explicitly here, arguing that societies compete against each other in ways that are sometimes (but not always) analogous to competition between animals. This analogy shouldn’t be taken too far: there are treacherous debates about whether organisms or genes compete, for example, and about the viability of group selection, but Fukuyama’s primary concern is actually with the differences between biological and political evolution, and so those nuances are forgiveably overlooked.
As for the bands -> tribes -> states progression, the basic notion is that bands (groups of no more than 100 or so at the most) are held together by actual blood relation. Tribalism is a social innovation that allows bands to come together by claiming (real or fictitious) common descent. Two bands might have the same patriarch or matriarch, and so in the face of a common enemy they can rapidly coalesce into a single unit. This capacity means that it’s fairly easy for tribal societies to defeat band societies, because every time a solitary band and a band that’s part of a tribal society come into conflict, the latter can call upon as many tribal allies as needed to win the fight. As a result almost no band societies are left in existence.
But tribal segments are intrinsically unstable. Fukuyama cites an Arab expression: “Me against my brother, me and my brother against my cousin, me and my cousin against the stranger.” When there is no stranger to confront, the cousins go to war. When there is no cousin on the horizon, the siblings feud. And so states are yet another progression–as superior to tribes as tribes are to bands–because of their ability to support not only temporary, contingent cooperation but permanent, universal cooperation.
Another argument he makes–and this one seemed just a little tangential but it’s interesting enough to go into–can be summarized as: ideas matter. Fukuyama says, for example, that “It is impossible to develop any meaningful theory of political development without treating ideas as fundamental causes of why societies differ and follow distinct development paths” and that ideas are “independent variables.” He’s reacting to the idea–exemplified in Marx–that to understand history in general and political development in particular, all you need are the physical factors: how much stuff do people have and what do they need to do to get more of it? He’s right to reject this idea. It’s wrong. But I think that–along with lot of other folks these days–he drastically overstates the extent to which anybody actually believes this.
It’s true that Economists talk about Homo economicus (the model of human beings as perfectly rational, self-interested agents), but never without an ironic edge. They know that this model is broken and doesn’t explain everything. That’s why the leading edge of critiquing human rationality intersects with economics: behavioral economics. Give economists some credit, they’ve already come up with bounded rationality as a fall-back, and you don’t do that unless you know that (unbounded) rationality is broken. Not that they’re satisfied with bounded rationality either, but economists are in the business of making models of human behavior and “all models are wrong.” Most of the folks who seem confused about this fact aren’t the economists, but the folks outside the discipline who don’t seem to be aware of the fact that economists are aware that their models are flawed.
Now, to Fukuyama’s main point: are ideas “independent variables”? I don’t think so. If Newton hadn’t figured out gravity, would some other clever chap have come along and figured it out by now? Probably so. I think that in most cases if you take out one particular genius, some other genius sooner or later comes to the same–or a very similar–realization. There’s no way to test it, but that’s my hunch. In fact, the whole business of a singular genius inventing this or that is often a delusion to begin with. Most of the really big breakthroughs–evolution and calculus come to mind first, but there plenty of others–were invented more or less simultaneously by different people at similar times. This is strong evidence to me that something about the historical context of (for example) Darwin and Wallace or Newton and Leibniz strongly directed people towards those discoveries. Which, if true, means that scientific discoveries are emphatically not independent. I have a hunch that’s what’s true of science is probably true to some degree of non-scientific ideas as well. If Marx had never been born, would we have Marxism? Probably not, but we’d probably have something pretty darn similar. (After all, we’d still have Engels, wouldn’t we?) It’s not like collective ownership is a new idea, after all. We’ve had the Peasant’s Revolt and the Red Turban Rebellion and many, many more. Take that basic idea, throw in a little Hegel (Marx just retrofitted Hegelianism) and presto: Marxism. If Marx hadn’t done it, and Engels hadn’t either, someone else would probably have done something similar. Maybe even using Hegel.
I don’t want to overstate my rebuttal to Fukuyama’s overstatement, so let’s pull back just a bit. I’m saying it’s probable that–in a world without Marx–someone else invents an ideology pretty close to Marxism. But does it take off? Does it inspire Lenin and Stalin? Does it lead to Mao and Castro? Do we still have the Cold War? I have no idea. And, while we’re at it, I’m not saying that if you didn’t have Shakespeare, someone else would have written Romeo and Juliet. I think that’s pretty absurd. My argument has two points: first, there’s interaction between ideas and physical contexts. Neither one is independent of the other. Second, human society is a complex system and that means it’s going to have some characteristics that are robust and hard to change (stable equilibria) and others where the tiniest variation could give rise to a totally different course of events (unstable equilibria). Maybe there was something inevitable about the general contours of socialism such that if you subtract Marx, and then subract Engels too, you still end up with a Cold War around a basically capitalist / socialist axis. Or maybe if even a fairly trivial detail in Marx’s life had changed, then Stalin would have been a die-hard free market capitalist and the whole trajectory of the post World War II 20th century would have been unrecognizable. I don’t know. I just do know that–just as ideas aren’t merely the consequences of physical circumstances–they also aren’t uncaused lightning bolts from the void, either. Ideas and the physical world exist in a state of mutual feedback.
But the primary concern of the book is this question: how do political order arise? For Fukuyama, political order has three components:
Rule of law
His account is contrarian basically from start to finish, but never (to my mind) gratuitously so. He argues, for example, that instead of starting with the rise of liberal democracy in the West, the key starting position is ancient China, the first society to develop a state in the modern sense. On the other hand, China never developed a robust rule of law. It was rather rule by law, a situation in which the emperor was not constrained by the idea of transcendent laws (either religious or, later, constitutional) and therefore China’s precocious, early state became as much a curse as a blessing:
[P]recocious state building in the absence of rule of law and accountability simply means that states can tyrannize their populations more effectively. Every advance in material well-being and technology implies, in the hands of an unchecked state, a greater ability to control society and to use it for the state’s own purposes.
Fukuyama’s historical analysis is far-reaching. He spends quite a lot of time on India and the Middle East as well. At last he turns his analysis on Europe where–quite apart from the conventional East / West dichotomy–he goes country-by-country to show how the basic problems confronted by states in China, India, and the Middle East also sabotaged the development of most European states. France and Spain became weak absolutist governments with state building and rule of law, but no accountability. Russia became a strongly absolutist government. The difference? The central rules of Spain and France managed to subvert their political rivals (the aristocracy), but only just barely. In Russia, the czars completely dominated their political rivals, ruling with more or less unchecked power.
Fukuyama spends a lot of this time on England, specifically, which he holds up as a kind of lottery winner where all sorts of factors that went awry everywhere else managed to line up correctly. And the story he tells is a fascinating one, because he inverts basically everything you’ve been taught in school. Here’s a characteristic passage where he summarizes a few arguments that he makes at length in the book:
[T]he exit out of kinship-based social organization had started already during the Dark Ages with the conversion of Germanic barbarians to Christianity. The right of individuals including women to freely buy and sell property was already well established in England in the 13th century. The modern legal order had its roots in the fight waged by the Catholic church against the emperor in the late 11th century, and the first European bureaucratic organizations were created by the church to manage its own internal affairs. The Catholic church, long vilified as an obstacle to modernization, was in this longer-term perspective at least as important as the Reformation as the driving force behind key aspects of modernity. Thus the European path to modernization was not a spasmodic burst of change across all dimensions of development, but rather a series of piecemeal shifts over a period of nearly 1,500 years. In this peculiar sequence, individualism on the social level could precede capitalism. Rule of law could precede the formation of a modern state. And feudalism, in the form of strong pockets of local resistance to central authority, could be the foundation of modern democracy.
It’s a fascinating argument–just because it’s original and well-argued–but I also found it convincing. I think Fukuyama is basically correct.
So a couple more notes. First, there are basically two problems that Fukuyama sees consistently eroding political order, and both of them go back to the biological foundations of politics. The first is what he calls repatrimonialization. To keep things simple, let’s just say “nepotism” instead. The idea is that the band-level origins of human nature never go away, and the temptation to use the state’s authority to enrich one’s own kin is omnipresent. His discussion of the Catholic church’s invention of the doctrine of celibacy to successfully stave off this threat (bishops kept trying to pass on their callings to their children before that doctrine was created) and the unsuccessful attempts of the Mamluk Sultanate to use slave soldiers to stave off this threat (eventually the slave soldiers grew so politically powerful that they “reformed” the prohibitions against passing on property) are some of the most historically illuminating in the book.
The second problem is human conservatism. Fukuyama doesn’t mean in the partisan sense. He’s referring to our tendency–a universal aspect of human nature–to invent and then follow norms and laws. The problem here is that once we invent our laws, we stick to them. And when circumstances change, the norms/laws (and institutions) should change too, but humans don’t like to do that. So one of the #1 causes of the downfall of political order is a historically successful state proving incapable of reforming institutions to meet a changing environment due to sheer inertia. The classic example is pre-revolution France, and here Fukuyama finds a convention with which he has no quarrel:
We have seen numerous examples of rent-seeking coalitions that have prevented necessary institutional change and therefore provoked political decay. The classic one from which the very term rent derives was ancient regime France, where the monarchy had grown strong over two centuries by co-opting much of the French elite. This co-option took the form of the actual pruchase of small pieces of the state, which could then be handed down to descendants. When reformist ministers like Maupeou and Turgot sought to change the system by abolishing venal office altogether, the existing stakeholders were strong enough to block any action. The problem of venal officeholding was solved only through violence in the course of the revolution.
The second note I wanted to make was about partisanship. First, it’s important to note that although Fukuyama celebrates the rise of modern liberalism in England, he’s not promoting English exceptionalism. He spends a lot of time talking about what he calls “getting to Denmark.” His point there is that Denmark is also a widely-respected stable, modern, prosperous democracy and it didn’t follow the trajectory of England. The point is that he’s not saying: everyone, copy the English. Although he traces the origins of liberalism the farthest back in time in England, he specifically notes that if Denmark could find its own way into liberalism without retracing that path: so can other nations.
This is an important point, because Fukuyama is dealing in comparative politics, and he has no problem drawing rather sweeping (albeit justified, in my mind) generalizations when contrasting, for example, India and China. This is the kind of thing that anyone in my generation or younger (young Gen-X / Millennials) has been trained to reflexively reject. If you compare societies, it’s because you’re a racist. Given that Fukuyama is comparing societies–and that he arguably has the most praise for the English in terms of the philosophical origins of modern liberalism–there is no doubt in my mind that he’s going to be (has been) attacked as a kind of apologist for white supremacy, etc.
And that’s not true. First, because as I said he’s adamant about the fact that other nations can (and have) found their way to liberalism without imitating all aspects of English (let alone European) culture, society, or politics. Second, because he has plenty of non-European success stories. (Unfortunately, those are mostly from his second volume, since this one only goes up to the French Revolution and so doesn’t cover the explosion of democracy world-wide since that time.) Third, and finally, because he’s more than willing to look at pros and cons of differing systems. For example, going back to China and their problem with despotism, here’s a comment he makes towards the end of the book:
An authoritarian system can periodically run rings around a liberal democratic one under good leadership, since it is able to make quick decisions unencumbered by legal challenges or legislative secondguessing. On the other hand, such a system depends on a constant supply of good leaders. Under a bad emperor, the unchecked powers vested in the government can lead to disaster. This problem remains key in contemporary China, where accountability flows only upward and not downward.
This is the kind of clear-eyed, open-minded analysis that I think we need more of, not less of. It’s hard to argue, for example, with the success of S. Korea in leap-frogging from despotism to liberal democracy. There’s no reason–in principle–that China could not do something similar. (Other than problems of scale, that is.)
So here are my final thoughts. First: this is a fascinating book and it’s a lot of fun to read. It’s full of interesting history along with interesting theorizing. Second: I am convinced by Fukuyama’s arguments. And lastly, I have a lot of respect for his approach. He’s a centrist, and so he’s going to tick some people off for praising the kinds of things that radicals like to attack. If you think liberal democracy is the devil, Fukuyama is an apologist for Satan. On the other hand, it would be entirely wrong to dismiss him as a partisan hack. He interacts with Hayek a lot, for example, but this includes a mixture of praise on some points and also staunch criticism on others. He’s willing to laud capitalism (as the evidence warrants, I might add) but also to tip some of the rights sacred cows. “Free markets are necessary to promote long-term growth,” he says, but finishes the sentence with, “but they are not self-regulating.” He also savages the small-government obsession of the right, arguing that if you like small government, maybe you should move to Somalia. He’s not just ridiculing the right in that case, however, but pointing out that:
Political institutions are necessary and cannot be taken for granted. A market economy and high levels of wealth don’t magically appear when you “get government out of the way”; they rest on a hidden institutional foundation of property rights, rule of law, and basic political order. A free market, a vigorous civil society, the spontaneous “wisdom of crowds” are all important components of a working democracy, but none can ultimately replace the functions of a strong, hierarchical government. There has been a broad recognition among economist in recent years that “institutions matter”: poor countries are poor not because they lack resources but because they lack effective political institutions. We need therefore to better understand where those institutions come from.
In other words–and he returns to this point in the second volume–Fukuyama is dismissive of arguments about the quantity of government in favor of arguments about the quality of government.
His ideas are interesting, they are relevant, and they are compelling. I highly, highly recommend this book.
Following the results of November’s presidential election, I decided to read up on the social science on voter rationality. The first was Ilya Somin’s Democracy and Political Ignorance. The second was economist Bryan Caplan’s Princeton-published The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies. Caplan argues that voters are not merely ignorant about economic policy; they are systematically biased in a way that puts them at complete odds with the economic profession. These biases include:
Anti-market bias: the public drastically underestimates the benefits of markets.
Anti-foreign bias: the public drastically underestimates the benefits of interactions with foreigners.
Make-work bias: the public equates prosperity with employment rather than production.
Pessimistic bias: the public is overly prone to think economic conditions are worse than they are.
For me, the evidence from surveys regarding the opinions of the public vs. economists was the most illuminating. People overwhelmingly support protectionism. Not only that, “solid majorities of noneconomists think it should be government’s responsibility to “keep prices under control”” (pg. 51). Other examples include:
Far fewer economists are concerned about “excessive taxation” than the public.
Far fewer economists are concerned about the deficit being “too high” than the public.
Few economists think foreign aid spending is “too high”, while a large number of the public does (foreign aid actually takes up about 1% of the federal budget).
Few economists think their are “too many immigrants”, while this is a concern for the public.
The list goes on. You can see a lecture by Caplan on his book below.
“[M]aking the case for liberalism is a Sisyphean task,” writes Will Wilkinson at the Niskanen Center. “If the old truths are not updated for each new age, they will slip from our grasp and lose our allegiance. The terms in which those truths have been couched will become hollow, potted mottoes, will fail to galvanize, inspire, and move us. The old truths will remain truths, but they’ll be dismissed and neglected as mere dogma, noise. And the liberal, open society will again face a crisis of faith…Intellectual and moral infrastructure depreciates. There are ongoing costs of maintenance. You can’t successfully defend liberalism once and for all, just like you can’t install a sewage system and flush happily ever after without giving it another thought.” The fading of liberal ideas is captured in the recent work of political scientist Yascha Mounk, as reported last week in The New York Times.
“If we fail to constantly refurbish the case for and commitment to liberalism,” Wilkinson continues,
reinforcing it against the specific damage of the age, our institutions will drift toward generalized opportunistic corruption and declining popular legitimacy. Our culture will drift toward defensive avidity and mutual distrust. Our politics will drift toward primal zero-sum tribal conflict. All of which creates a fat political opening for would-be despots and ends-justifies-the-means zealots. Fascism and communism arose in liberal Europe because the liberal elites got complacent, nobody fixed the pipes, and then awful people with awful ideas rose to power promising to fix damage—and then caused massively more damage.
The fact that liberalism has become rote is central to our problem. Academic left-liberalism is doggedly utopian—and stale. Democratic Party liberalism is incoherent—and stale. Orthodox libertarianism is dogmatically blinkered—and stale. The “classical liberalism” of conservative-libertarian fusionism is phony—and stale. Each of our legacy liberalisms is, in its own way, corrupt. It’s all part of our pitted, pocked, cracked and creaking liberal cultural infrastructure. It doesn’t help to replace rotten wood with rotten wood, rusty pipe with rusty pipe…An effective defense of the open society must begin with an empirically-minded account of its complex inner workings and its surpassing value. Liberal political order is humanity’s greatest achievement. That may sound like hype, but it’s the cold, hard truth. The liberal state, and the global traffic of goods, people, and ideas that it has enabled has led to the greatest era of peace in history, to new horizons of practical knowledge, health, wealth, longevity, and equality, and massive decline in desperate poverty and needless suffering. It’s clearer than ever that the multicultural, liberal-democratic, capitalist welfare state is far-and-away the best humanity has ever done. But people don’t know this! We are dangerously oblivious to the nature of our freedom and good fortune, and seem poised to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
I can only hope that some of my posts here at Difficult Run have contributed to this project of making liberalism great again.
I’ve discussed the science of sleep here before. Elements of our arguably overstimulated society can make it difficult to get some truly good rest. Not only does this lead to highways full of practically drunk people, it also lowers our productivity at work. For example, new research from one pair of economists find that increased sleep gain lead to wage gains in both the short run and the long run. From the abstract:
We investigate the labor market effects of the single largest use of time—sleep. Motivated by a productive sleep model, we show that sleep is complementary to work in the short run and complementary to home production for non-employed individuals in both the short and long run. Using time use diaries from the United States, we demonstrate in both parametric and non-parametric frameworks that later sunset time reduces worker sleep and wages. After investigating these relationships and ruling out alternative hypotheses, we implement an instrumental variables specification that provides the first causal estimates of the impact of sleep on wages. A one-hour increase in location-average weekly sleep increases wages by 1.3% in the short run and by 5% in the long run.
Employees: Want a raise? Get some sleep.
Employers: Want more productive employers? Let them get enough sleep.
New York Times reporter and best-seller John Tierny published an excellent article with City Journal in which he argues that the Left has waged a far more damaging and effective war on science than the Right, despite narratives to the contrary. The whole article is worth reading, but among his examples include:
Extensive confirmation bias (and other biases) in the social sciences that result in skewed research, particularly regarding research comparing left-wing people and right-wing people.
Taboos against valid research: for example, discouraging or outright condemning research that (a) explores genetic differences between genders or races (unless the genetic differences relate to differences in sexual orientation) or (b) finds negative impacts of single-parent households, LGBT parenting, or putting children in childcare versus stay-at-home parenting.
Politicizing (and thus corrupting) research on (a) genetics and animal breeding (contributing to the eugenics movement of the early 20th century), (b) overpopulation (contributing, Tierny argues, to China’s immoral and disastrous one-child policy), (c) environmental science (contributing to many different problems, such as increased death tolls from malaria when DDT was restricted or the spread of dengue and Zika virus due to needless fears of insecticides), and (d) food science (pushing low fat diets and greatly increasing American consumption of carbohydrates).
Tierny argues that possibly one of the greatest casualties of the Left’s war on science is the reputation of scientists. As he puts it: “Bad research can be exposed and discarded, but bad reputations endure.”
The whole article is worth reading, but here is a sampling:
In a classic study of peer review, 75 psychologists were asked to referee a paper about the mental health of left-wing student activists. Some referees saw a version of the paper showing that the student activists’ mental health was above normal; others saw different data, showing it to be below normal. Sure enough, the more liberal referees were more likely to recommend publishing the paper favorable to the left-wing activists. When the conclusion went the other way, they quickly found problems with its methodology.
The narrative that Republicans are antiscience has been fed by well-publicized studies reporting that conservatives are more close-minded and dogmatic than liberals are. But these conclusions have been based on questions asking people how strongly they cling to traditional morality and religion—dogmas that matter a lot more to conservatives than to liberals. A few other studies—not well-publicized—have shown that liberals can be just as close-minded when their own beliefs, such as their feelings about the environment or Barack Obama, are challenged.
Social psychologists have often reported that conservatives are more prejudiced against other social groups than liberals are. But one of Haidt’s coauthors, Jarret Crawford of the College of New Jersey, recently noted a glaring problem with these studies: they typically involve attitudes toward groups that lean left, like African-Americans and communists. When Crawford (who is a liberal) did his own study involving a wider range of groups, he found that prejudice is bipartisan. Liberals display strong prejudice against religious Christians and other groups they perceive as right of center.
Conservatives have been variously pathologized as unethical, antisocial, and irrational simply because they don’t share beliefs that seem self-evident to liberals. For instance, one study explored ethical decision making by asking people whether they would formally support a female colleague’s complaint of sexual harassment. There was no way to know if the complaint was justified, but anyone who didn’t automatically side with the woman was put in the unethical category. Another study asked people whether they believed that “in the long run, hard work usually brings a better life”—and then classified a yes answer as a “rationalization of inequality.” Another study asked people if they agreed that “the Earth has plenty of natural resources if we just learn how to develop them”—a view held by many experts in resource economics, but the psychologists pathologized it as a “denial of environmental realities.”
For his part, Holdren [a previous advocate of forced population control in the U.S.] has served for the past eight years as the science advisor to President Obama, a position from which he laments that Americans don’t take his warnings on climate change seriously. He doesn’t seem to realize that public skepticism has a lot to do with the dismal track record of himself and his fellow environmentalists. There’s always an apocalypse requiring the expansion of state power. The visions of global famine were followed by more failed predictions, such as an “age of scarcity” due to vanishing supplies of energy and natural resources and epidemics of cancer and infertility caused by synthetic chemicals. In a 1976 book, The Genesis Strategy, the climatologist Stephen Schneider advocated a new fourth branch of the federal government (with experts like himself serving 20-year terms) to deal with the imminent crisis of global cooling. He later switched to become a leader in the global-warming debate.
Yet many climate researchers are passing off their political opinions as science, just as Obama does, and they’re even using that absurdly unscientific term “denier” as if they were priests guarding some eternal truth. Science advances by continually challenging and testing hypotheses, but the modern Left has become obsessed with silencing heretics. In a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch last year, 20 climate scientists urged her to use federal racketeering laws to prosecute corporations and think tanks that have “deceived the American people about the risks of climate change.” Similar assaults on free speech are endorsed in the Democratic Party’s 2016 platform, which calls for prosecution of companies that make “misleading” statements about “the scientific reality of climate change.” A group of Democratic state attorneys general coordinated an assault on climate skeptics by subpoenaing records from fossil-fuel companies and free-market think tanks, supposedly as part of investigations to prosecute corporate fraud. Such prosecutions may go nowhere in court—they’re blatant violations of the First Amendment—but that’s not their purpose. By demanding a decade’s worth of e-mail and other records, the Democratic inquisitors and their scientist allies want to harass climate dissidents and intimidate their donors.
The outcome of the election still has many rocking. I had taken up reading GMU law professor Ilya Somin’s Democracy and Political Ignorance: Why Smaller Government Is Smarter the week prior to the election, but finished a few days afterwards. What a timely read. Somin puts forth a wealth of evidence that political ignorance is pervasive among American voters. For example:
Prior to the 2014 elections, only 38% of Americans knew that Republicans controlled the House of Representatives, while the same amount knew that Democrats had the majority in the Senate (pg. 17).
In late August 2013, 44% of Americans did not know that the Affordable Care Act was still the law (pg. 18).
In September 2014, only 20% of Americans knew that the federal government spends more on Social Security than on foreign aid, transportation, and interest on the government debt (pg. 18).
In August 2012, 43% of Americans had never heard of Paul Ryan and only 32% knew he was a member of the House of Representatives (pg. 18).
A 2014 poll found that only 36% of Americans could name the three branches of the federal government (pg. 20).
A 2002 study indicated that 35% of Americans thought Marx’s “From each according to his ability to each according to his need” was in the Constitution with another 34% saying they weren’t sure (pg. 20).
Somin, however, does not believe the above results are due to voter stupidity. Instead, he believes that voters are rationally ignorant: the instrumental value of a single vote is vanishingly small, making the incentive to be well-informed about political matters incredibly weak. But even those who are politically informed act more like sports fans than objective truth-seekers. They cheer for their team and evaluate evidence in a highly-biased fashion. Many think this political ignorance and bias could be overcome with greater education, but Somin points out that even as educational attainment and IQ scores have risen over the last five or six decades, political knowledge levels have barely budged.
How does Somin propose tackling this issue? He advocates increasing the opportunity for people to “vote with their feet.” In the private sector, people spend more time acquiring information about the products and services they intend to consume. Those products or services they dislike, they do not purchase. Similarly, people spend more time acquiring information about the states and cities before relocating. This includes cost of living, laws, etc. Voters leave states and local governments when they find better opportunities elsewhere. To allow for more “foot voting” vs. ballot box voting, Somin recommends more decentralization of government. He explains,
Unlike ballot box voting, “foot voting” creates much better incentives to both acquire information and use it rationally. The reason is simple: for most foot voters, the choice to leave or stay is individually decisive. The would-be migrant does not have to take a vote in which her ballot has only a miniscule chance of making a difference. Rather, she knows that whatever decision she makes she can then implement, subject perhaps to the agreement of a few family members. This simple point has important implications for institutional design in democratic political systems. It strengthens the case for decentralizing political power. The greater the degree of decentralization, the more political decisions can be made by foot voting, rather than ballot box voting alone. The informational advantages of foot voting also buttress the case for limiting the scope of government authority relative to the private sector. In markets and civil society, individuals can often vote with their feet even more effectively than in a system of decentralized federalism. Foot voting in the private sector usually doesn’t carry moving costs as high as those of interjurisdictional migration. In addition, limiting the scope of government could alleviate information problems by reducing the knowledge burden imposed on voters. The smaller and less complex government is, the more likely that even rationally ignorant voters might be able to understand its functions. Smaller government does not make us smarter in the sense of increasing our intelligence. But it can help us make smarter decisions by improving our incentives to make effective use of the intelligence we already have (pgs. 14-15).
Check out a lecture by Somin at the Cato Institute below.
This just keeps getting better and better. I wrote last month on research regarding cultural/ethnic diversity, immigration, and economic growth and institutions. A new study adds support to these findings by showing that cultural fractionalization and polarization positively effect real GDP per capita. The authors explain,
By using data on a large sample of world economies for 1960-2010, we construct two indexes of diversity:
Fractionalisation: the likelihood that two individuals randomly selected from the population were born in different countries
Polarisation: how far the distribution of the groups in one country is from a bipolar distribution where there are only two groups of equal size.
Causality can run both ways – countries that have a higher growth rate might attract more immigrants from a variety of origins, thereby increasing the degree of diversity. Therefore heterogeneity might be the effect rather than the cause of economic growth. Also immigration policies could be important drivers of immigration and, if unaccounted for, they could lead to incorrect inferences.
To address this we exploit the dyadic nature of our dataset to predict countries’ bilateral migration flows using a set of pre-determined or ‘exogenous’ dyadic variables such as geographic distance. We then use the predicted immigration flows to construct predicted indexes of diversity. This approach allows us to isolate the portion of the correlation between diversity and economic growth that is due to the causal effect of diversity.
We also exploit the time dimension of our dataset to control for unobserved heterogeneity by estimating a dynamic panel data model. This approach would remove any time-invariant country-specific unobserved factors that might possibly drive the relationship between diversity and economic growth.
We find that both indices of cultural heterogeneity – fractionalisation and polarisation – have a positive impact on the growth rate of GDP over long time periods. For, example, between 1960 and 2010, the growth rate of per capita GDP increased by about 0.15 percentage points when the growth rate of fractionalisation variable increased by one percentage point.
The impact is especially good for developing countries:
The literature on immigration emphasises that immigrants represent human resources, particularly appropriate for innovation and technological progress (Bodvarsson and Van den Berg 2013). So, as with the effect of education, the level of heterogeneity in their composition should enhance human capital formation and favour the adoption of new technologies (Nelson and Phelps 1966). Rich countries are closer to the technological frontier, thus the strength of the catch-up effect becomes smaller the more developed the host country is. This implies that developing economies would benefit the most from diversity.
To test this hypothesis, we split countries into two subgroups according to their initial level of development, and find that developing economies are more likely to experience an increase in GDP growth rate following changes in the degree of diversity. The most conservative estimates suggest that a one percentage point increase in the growth rate of fractionalisation (polarisation) boosts per capita output by about 0.1 percentage points in developing countries.
Our evidence suggests that immigration-fuelled diversity is good for economic growth. We recommend more openness to immigration so as to reap the large unrealised benefits from an increased range of skills and ideas in the destination country. Cultural diversity is a phenomenon that is continually changing, and difficult to define. Individuals have many observable characteristics – race, language, religion, nationality, wealth, education – but only some categories have economic salience. Because we don’t yet know which markers of identity are economically important, this subject will be a fertile area of study for the foreseeable future.
Perhaps we could all try being a bit more welcoming.
Both before and after the election results, Trump’s supporters were lambasted as racist, misogynist bigots. But do these insults work? Will shaming change anyone’s mind? If not, how do you convince people to drop their prejudices? As Vox reports: “a frank, brief conversation.”
[A 2016] study, authored by David Broockman at Stanford University and Joshua Kalla at the University of California Berkeley, looked at how simple conversations can help combat anti-transgender attitudes. In the research, people canvassed the homes of more than 500 voters in South Florida. The canvassers, who could be trans or not, asked the voters to simply put themselves in the shoes of trans people — to understand their problems — through a 10-minute, nonconfrontational conversation. The hope was that the brief discussion could lead people to reevaluate their biases.
It worked. The trial found not only that voters’ anti-trans attitudes declined but that they remained lower three months later, showing an enduring result. And those voters’ support for laws that protect trans people from discrimination increased, even when they were presented with counterarguments for such laws.
…In talking with researchers and looking at the studies on this, I found that it is possible to reduce people’s racial anxiety and prejudices. And the canvassing idea was regarded as very promising. But, researchers cautioned, the process of reducing people’s racism will take time and, crucially, empathy.
This is the direct opposite of the kind of culture the internet has fostered — typically focused on calling out racists and shaming them in public. This doesn’t work. And as much as it might seem like a lost cause to understand the perspectives of people who may qualify as racist, understanding where they come from is a needed step to being able to speak to them in a way that will help reduce the racial biases they hold.
It turns out that favorite buzzwords and phrases like “racist,” “white privilege,” and “implicit bias” are often seen by these voters “as coded slurs. These terms don’t signal to them that they’re doing something wrong, but that their supposedly racist attitudes (which they would deny having at all) are a justification for lawmakers and other elites to ignore their problems…What’s more, accusations of racism can cause white Americans to become incredibly defensive — to the point that they might reinforce white supremacy. Robin DiAngelo, who studies race at Westfield State University, described this phenomenon as “white fragility” in a groundbreaking 2011 paper[…]The innate resistance and defensiveness to conversations about bigotry don’t mean that you should never talk about racism, sexism, homophobia, or other kinds of hate. But those conversations may have to be held more tactfully — positioning people into a more receptive position to hear what these problems are all about.”
News and social media outlets have been reporting numerous incidents of racism, hate crimes, and racially-charged harassment since the Tuesday election outcome. According to USA Today, “There indeed has been a spike in the number of reports of such incidents, say representatives for two organizations that track such occurrences. A representative for one group, in fact, said the rise appears to be even worse that what was took place immediately after the terror attacks in 2001.” One of these organizations–the Southern Poverty Law Center–“says it has logged more than 200 complaints since the election, and while it could not provide a figure for the average number of complaints it takes in each day, Cohen assured that the number is much larger than what is typical.” Confidently declaring that the number is above average while being unable to provide an average to compare it to is rather unhelpful and possibly just a case of availability bias (they may have a more detailed analysis in the next couple weeks). Furthermore, there is the need to distinguish between legitimate and fabricated complaints.
Nonetheless, what can we realistically assume? Some of us here at Difficult Run have compared the current American situation to the political climate that produced Brexit. Looking at the aftermath of the EU referendum may give us an idea of what to expect in the next couple months following Trump’s victory. According to the statistics released by the Home Office in October, racist or religious abuse incidents increased by 41% in England and Wales in the months following the UK’s exit from the European Union.
shows the monthly number of racially or religiously aggravated offences recorded by the police in the last four years. There is an increase in these offences recorded in June 2016, followed by an even sharper increase in July 2016. The number of aggravated offences recorded then declined in August, but remained at a higher level than prior to the EU Referendum. These increases fit the widely reported pattern of an increase in hate crime following the EU referendum. Whilst January to May 2016 follows a similar level of hate crime to 2015, the number of racially or religiously aggravated offences recorded by the police in July 2016 was 41% higher than in July 2015. The sharp increase in offences is not replicated in the non-racially or religiously aggravated equivalent offences (pgs. 18-19, Figures 1A & 2A).
Without more evidence, it is impossible to determine if the hate crimes have continued to drop to average levels. It’s worth pointing out that when one looks at the trends from 2013-2016, it appears that the offenses go up during the summer and tend to decline as winter approaches. Someevidencesuggests a correlation between hotter weather and crime, though this would not fully explain the significant jump we see in 2016. If anything, hotter weather added fuel to the fire (or vice versa). This could mean that with winter approaching, the American backlash will be comparatively smaller and shorter.
All this, of course, is conjecture. Americans will have to wait on the FBI’s 2016 hate crime stats to know for sure. Still, the spike in the UK following Brexit could possibly serve as a realistic model of what to expect in the next couple months: a short-lived, but abrupt increase in racially or religiously aggravated offenses followed by a steep decline.