Hitler defeated Lenin, Chiang defeated Mao

By Lorenzo

It is a commonplace that the victors write history. But which victors? The victors that are claimed to write history are normally taken to be those who win wars and other conflicts. But just because one side wins a war or conflict, it does not follow that its ideas triumph in the longer term.

Consider contemporary China. Mao Zedong defeated Chiang Kai-shek in their epic decades-long conflict, driving him and his Kuomintang forces to exile in Taiwan. Now, look at contemporary China–is it closer to Mao’s vision or Chiang’s?

Obviously Chiang’s. As a wit observed, the story of post-1979 politics in both “Chinas” (the People’s Republic and Taiwan) is the Communist Party of China trying to become the Kuomintang and the Kuomintang trying to become the Democratic Progressive Party. Mao may have won the military struggle, but Chiang’s vision won the wider social war. It turns out that social reality is not entirely plastic to our visions, and Chiang’s proved to be more human and achievable than Mao’s. That matters, in the end.

Lenin‘s successor Stalin, with huge help from the Anglo-Americans (who provided trucks, rolling stock, canned food, and munitions crucial to the Red Army while their bombing campaign diverted the Luftwaffe and many thousands of tank-killer 88mm guns from the Eastern Front), defeated Hitler on the Eastern Front. But consider contemporary postmodern identity progressivism (PIP), with its concern for authenticity, identity, emotion over reason, environment, obsessions with the Jewish state, dismissive treatment of workers and belief that a sufficiently interventionist state does not have to own firms to control them: whose obsessions does it better reflect, Hitler’s or Lenin’s?

Obviously Hitler’s (though also obviously not with his identity rankings). As post-Enlightenment progressivism turns out to be the Counter-Enlightenment rebooted (which is why it is so easy for more openly Counter-Enlightenment politics to adopt the political tropes of PIPism), this is less shocking than it appears.

For the triumph of Chiang’s vision over Mao’s, and Hitler’s obsessions over Lenin’s, is, in a deep sense, the same triumph (or, more accurately, the same failure). In both cases, the Radical Enlightenment (the belief that humans and society could be utterly transformed by applied social reason) turned out to be triumphant in direct military struggle and a failure thereafter.

Winning the war …  

The Radical Enlightenment instanced by Leninism and Maoism was triumphant in direct military struggle because it both motivated and mobilised. It provided a vision, a goal, of such transcendent power that it could motivate enormous, focused efforts. Moreover, efforts that could not only motivate intensely but mobilise broadly. Since every aspect of society was to be transformed, every aspect of society was up for being contested and mobilised without inhibitions, moral or conceptual. No aspect of society, or social group, was beyond contesting or mobilising for a future that seemed to epitomise modernity. Mao could count on much more motivated allies and fellow-travellers than Chiang, including broader sympathy within the US State Department, for example–and not from communists or crypto-communists but from liberal/progressive folk repelled by the corrupt inefficiencies of Chiang’s regime.

During the struggle on the Eastern Front, Hitler threw away potential allies on race-theory grounds while diverting resources to genocide. Stalin was even more willing to engaged in megacidal slaughter than Hitler, but was much better at sequencing slaughter than Hitler. Mobilising for the current struggle always came first.

Within Weimar Germany, interwar politics demonstrated that class theory was worse at alliance building than race theory. As a direct consequence, once in power being ruled by Hitler in peacetime was generally far safer than being ruled by Stalin: a typical German was much less threatened by Hitler than a typical Russian was by Stalin.

Internationally, it was the other way around–class theory was better at alliance building than race theory. While Nazism and Stalinism were even on the motivation stakes, Stalinism was better at allies and breadth of mobilisation.

… but failing human and social management 

Hence, Stalinism won (with help from its allies). But won the war, not history for, again, social reality is not entirely plastic to our visions. As political economist Mancur Olson pointed out, you can make Stalinism work (in the sense of providing a high proportion of social resources for the purposes of the ruler)–provided you are willing to engage in regular purges to break up the resource diverting and suppressing “self-help” (i.e. patronage and corruption) networks that command-and-control systems naturally generate. But as the people purges need to threaten (those in the power apparat) in order to work are precisely the people with the greatest ability to end them, they are not likely to be a permanent feature of any society. (Well, there is a way around that–have a hereditary ruler.) Once the purges end, then the self-servicing networks build up and the (now unchecked) pathologies of command-and-control begin to spread until the system is buried by them.

                        Shanghai, China.

Unless you do as Deng Xiaoping did, and allow other social mechanisms (specifically those of markets and private property) to operate across wider and wider range of social space. You are still left with attempting to manage command-and-control mechanisms, but across a narrower span of social action supported by an expanding economy rather than a stagnating, or even contracting, one.

Hitler’s obsessions, on the other hand, are much less directly destructive of economic activity while equally representing a rejection of the Sceptical Enlightenment (the belief that human nature and social dynamics–such as the problems of knowledge and incentives–provide a permanent constraints on what applied reason can achieve). The rebooted identity obsessions of the Counter-Enlightenment provide motivating purposes and grounds for social mobilisation compatible (mostly) with market mechanisms. In the face of the collapse of command economics as a plausible social model, they were a natural place for salvationist politics (i.e. politics that provides a substitute for religion in imparting a sense of meaning, importance and path to a transcendent future) to move to, and so it has.

It turns out, being good at military success is not enough; being compatible with longer run social success counts more. In the failure of the Radical Enlightenment because people and society are not as plastic to our visions as it claims–indeed, requires–we can see why Chiang’s vision defeated Mao’s and Hitler’s obsessions overtook Lenin’s.


[Cross-posted from Thinking Out Aloud.]

How the rhetoric of denunciation distorts public affairs

By Lorenzo

During a post on how the US Democrats need to get their act together for the good of the United States, IT guru and long-time blogger Eric. S. Raymond makes the following observation about constant harping on about racism:

It is irrelevant whether an actual plurality of American voters actually are as racist and sexist as you think. They don’t think they are, and they’re fed up with being hectored about it. This isn’t 1965, and your ability to tap into a substratum of guilt by white people who deep down know they were in the wrong is gone. What that same move brings up now is resentment.

Quite so. That racial resentment is then characterised as racism (or a proxy for racism: see here) then generates a self-reinforcing feedback loop.

The constant pointing-and-shrieking of racism!, sexism!, misogyny!, homophobia!, transphobia!, xenophobia!, Islamophobia! etc is what I have called the rhetoric of denunciation. It is based on what we might reasonably call the PC-principle:

a person’s moral standing is determined by their opinions.

This is in contrast to the liberal principle:

a person has inherent moral worth and so should be free to express their opinions.

The PC principle, or what we might call the grading-by-opinion principle, has various implications. One is “gotcha!”. If a person’s moral standing is dependent on their opinions, then any error or mistake is likely to be interpreted as a moral or character failing. If said words transgresses against the current opinion-grading norms (and so is subject to point-and-shriek), then their lack of moral character, their lack of moral standing, is taken as demonstrated and so profoundly contaminates anything else they have to say.

Another consequence is the downgrading of achievement. If moral standing is determined by conformity to opinion-grading norms, then past achievement is irrelevant. It doesn’t matter if one was a pioneering voice in feminism, or of transgender film making, a prominent gay and civil rights activist, or was clever enough to land a spacecraft on a comet, or got a Nobel Prize in biology, or even if the original claims were false or misleading; all that counts for naught against (apparent) failure to keep up to current opinion status-grading norms.

A third is pervasive moral arrogance: both from the belief that one is entitled to grade people in such a way and in the belief that one partakes in a moral and cognitive understanding so pervasive that such grading is unproblematic. There is no place for Millian humility about truth being discovered through dispute. On the contrary, the sense of moral grandeur and entitlement is part of the appeal of the grading-by-opinion principle to adherents (and, conversely, what makes their consequent antics so infuriating to others).

Distorting information flows
But there will also be a range of (invidious) effects on the flow of information and opinion within the wider society and politics. Those who have views or concerns that fail to conform to the opinion norms (themselves set by those most willing to protest and vilify) and for whom vilification imposes relatively high costs (for instance, due to career or personal reasons), will be pushed out of participating conversations and debates; both personal and public. Their concerns and views will not disappear, and are unlikely to be changed, but will simply persist in a largely unseen fashion. So, all the problems of preference falsification begin to build up.

Those who dissent yet remain active in conversation and public debate will be those willing and able to put up with the vilification costs. Which will often be the more ideologically motivated. So, the paradoxical effect of trying to restrict diversity in opinion will to make the more stridently non-conformist more publicly salient. Worse, the more that the more ideologically motivated have a monopoly in expressing concerns prevalent among the reluctantly silent, the more capacity the ideologically motivated will have to build support among such.

Given that contemporary grading-by-opinion principle within the cultural “commanding heights” is profoundly progressivist, that will create a tendency to de-stabilise centre-right politics, as more moderate politicians are pushed into failing to respond to concerns among their voters, and so begin to lose out to less conformist political entrepreneurs. Conversely, the (quite accurate) sense of being ignored and hectored by arrogant and condescending elites will give the counter-identity of populism so much to work with.

So, the effect of conformity-enforcing pointing-and-shrieking, and the rhetoric of denunciation, of imposing social costs on dissenting opinion, will to increase polarising extremity in public debate.

Including via the effect on the proponents of the opinion-dominates principle. Both their sources of information, and their capacity to use information, will degrade. If transgressing the opinion norms determines your moral standing, then information coming from those deemed to lack moral standing will be massively discounted. The reluctant silence of those unwilling to bear the costs and risks of dissent will give a false impression of the actual patterns of opinion. Moreover, entertaining thoughts that might lead to oneself transgressing against the opinion norms becomes dangerous to one’s standing and sense of identity, as does paying attention to any facts that might lead one to such thoughts.

The more one’s social milieu is made up of people who grade people’s moral standing via their opinions, the more opinion-conformity there will be within that social milieu, as the penalties of transgression mount, and the connection between opinion and identity increase. The increasing-conformity social mechanisms nicely set out in Cass Sunstein’s Why Societies Need Dissent come into play. The effect will be to create increasing opinion “bubbles” where dissent will seem even more outlandish and aberrant and so even more subject to vilification and loss of moral standing. The “I can tolerate anyone except the outgroup” effect becomes that much stronger.

This is nowhere clearer than in the debate over political correctness itself. To claim that there is a problem with PC is to put oneself outside the cognitive tribe of those adhering to “proper” opinion; or, at least, to put one’s tribal membership, as a person with good moral standing, at risk. Conversely, those most likely to publicly criticise the dynamics of PC are those mostly likely to already diverge from “proper” opinion, so be already discounted. So, “good folk” are blocked from listening to, or giving any substantive consideration to, such critiques.

Hence a feature of the debate, which is gay men in particular of a certain age (such as Andrew SullivanPeter Tatchell, Stephen Fry and David Rubin–Fry and Rubin discussed the issue together) being critics of PC. First, their being gay gives them some protection. Second, the dynamics of PC are essentially the same as those of the traditional gender and sexual correctness that they grew up being oppressed by: deriving from claims to be protecting the moral order against those who would destroy it, vilification of divergence, treating the divergent as evil in intent, suppression of inconvenient facts, being insulted by the notion that such “awful” people should be treated as having moral standing equivalent to “decent” folk (what I call the insult of equality), and so on. Both opinion-grading-conformism (aka PC) and traditional sexual and gender correctness are forms of moral bullying; and those who have no wish to be moral bullies themselves, but suffered from moral bullying in their own lives, are often more motivated to call it out when it comes around in a new form.

Decaying institutions
There are also wider institutional effects from the grading-by-opinion principle. If an industry which exists on conveying information (most obviously, the media) is increasingly pervaded by the conformist operation of the grading-by-opinion principle, then its members will increasingly become an unreliable conveyor of information–either due to suppressing facts, or suppressing implications. (Note that suppressing facts does not require lying: it just requires either not covering inconvenient facts or covering them in a way which discourages taking the “wrong” implications from them.)

A pattern which will become stronger, via the echo chamber effect (and the other social mechanisms nicely set out in Cass Sunstein’s Why Societies Need Dissent), the more the norms of opinion grading become dominant in their organisation or industry. Which, as the alternative sources of information available to the wider public expand, creates a widening disconnect between the purveyors of information and large sections of their audience. The effect is likely to be particularly strong where the information content typically conveyed is lower (say, because the visual content is higher and pieces are shorter–i.e. TV media) and so remaining words have more potential normative weight.

Thus the effect of accepting opinion-grading norms, based on opinion determining moral standing, will be to depress the public standing of any information-conveying industry the more it becomes pervaded by it. Particularly among those most distant from the opinions within the industry.

Polarising opinion, growth of more “extreme” forms of political dissent, creating of opinion bubbles and loss of standing by mainstream media with rising populism. Does this sound anything like the world we live in?

Degrading democracy
A society where the costs of participating in public debate are extremely uneven, so preference falsification becomes increasingly widespread, is a society where basic processes of social bargaining will be damaged. This is very unhelpful for the long term health of any polity, but particularly democratic ones.

As the performance of democracies as vehicles for broad social bargaining degrade, and as the notion that citizens are people who are of inherent worth, such that they are entitled to express their opinions, becomes less and less adhered to (particularly among those who inhabit the cultural “commanding heights”), then one can expect that confidence in democracy, and adherence to democratic norms, will also degrade. As is happening.

The PC principle, the grading-by-opinion principle, is disastrous in both theory and practice. It is morally offensive to reduce the moral standing of a person to some subset of their opinions (in much the same way as it is to reduce their moral standing to their gender, religion, sexuality, etc). It is particularly meretricious to do so according to ever-shifting norms of acceptability.

Moreover, the patterns of thought and behaviour involved are deeply politically and socially corrosive. The deeply illiberal (indeed, incipiently totalitarian) nature and social dynamics of conformist grading-by-opinion dominating the information industries (media, IT, academe, entertainment) is not a minor issue at all, it is a very serious corrosive factor within Western democratic societies.


ADDENDA. And now Margaret Atwood, novelist and author of The Handmaiden’s Taleis being called “an enabler of rape culture”.

[ Cross-posted from Thinking Out Aloud. ]


Stop with the projecting

By Lorenzo

If you assume some factor is behind everything, it is very easy to find it everywhere you look–you just project it onto phenomena. Marxists assumed everything was driven by class dynamics and–surprise, surprise—they found it everywhere they looked. As a friend of mine said to me years ago; Marxist academics didn’t look for evidence, they looked for footnotes.

As the modernist left has been overtaken by postmodern identity progressivism–folk who have drunk the “post-Enlightenment” Kool Aid, which turns out to be just the Counter-Enlightenment rebooted–so has risen the pattern of assuming malicious group projection (racism, misogyny, homophobia, Islamophobia, transphobia, etc) is behind everything and—surprise, surprise—they find it everywhere they look.

According to exit polls, The Donald in 2016 won slightly less of the white vote than Mitt Romney in 2008, and more of the African-American and Hispanic vote (though there is some dispute about the scale of the latter shift). In terms of actual votes, the 2016 Presidential was less ethno-racially polarised than the 2012 election and was less ethno-racially polarised primarily because of net shifts in non-white votes away from the Democrat ticket. (Mainly because a lot of non-white voters did not vote.)

If the actual vote was less ethno-racially polarised in 2016 than 2012, what would account for the shift? Economics: The Donald explicitly pushed economic issues as his great differentiator from Hillary Clinton. Which clearly worked: in scores of counties, working class voters who had voted twice for Obama (in 2008 and 2012) shifted massively to The Donald.

Immigration does not provide universal gain

Yes, The Donald talked about immigration, but immigration is, for working class voters, primarily an economic issue and always has been. It is economic competition which is their primary fear from immigration; that fear has often, historically, been framed in group terms (ethnic, linguistic, racial, religious, whatever marker most easily has distinguished newcomers from the residents), with rhetoric to match, but was and is primarily driven by concern for their incomes and livelihoods. The resident working class is, after all, the group economically most vulnerable to immigration.

Nor, despite folk wielding somewhat tendentious economic studies to the contrary, is this fear irrational. Yes, a larger population means more economic activity and Smithian growth from larger markets. But the benefits from such growth go primarily to the migrants (who get access to better institutions than where they came from) and holders of capital (who get an increased scarcity premium relative to labour). It is very easy for the resident working class to be net losers from migration (unless migration policy takes considerable care that they are not) and being net losers is what both elementary economic theory, and the evidence, suggests has happened to much of the resident working class in the US.

The Rogowski political economy of trade [pdf] is very simple–plentiful factors of production want free trade because they want access to larger markets, scarce factors of production want trade protection because they want to preserve their domestic scarcity premium. If a country is importing that factor of production, or its products (given you cannot import land), then that factor of production is domestically scarce. Immigration is, in these terms, trade that moves in (so with a much wider range of effects, of costs and benefits).

Folk who work in the public sector, or are welfare dependant, or work in a non-traded sector (such as most professional folk) tend to be pro free trade, as it gives them access to cheaper goods. People who work in the public sector also tend to be pro immigration, as it broadens their career opportunities. Similarly with professional folk, as long as (1) migrants are not likely to compete with them: which, particularly given the long term trend to increased occupational licensing in the US, is generally true, or (2) they already work in a global market (as do most academics, entertainment, IT and media folk). For the welfare dependant, it depends on whether the migrants are seen as tax-cash-cows and/or potential pro-welfare voters (pro-migration factors) or competitors for scarce welfare resources (anti-migration factors).

More broadly, if migration is seen as directing scarce policy attention and public goods to your area, it is likely to seen as a positive; if it is seen as directing scarce policy attention and public goods away from your area, it is likely to be seen as negative. (Hence, for example, areas in England with relatively few migrants voting for leaving the EU.) On these grounds alone, migration is likely to be seen as a positive in big city US and as a negative in rural and small town US.

If you work in an industry which exports, then you have an interest in free trade (or at least in access to foreign markets). But, if you are a worker in such an industry, you do not have the same interest in immigration if the migrants are going to compete with you.

Given that the US imports labour, labour is domestically scarce. Hence workers tend to be protectionist and, even more, sceptical about immigration. This is not stupid, ignorant or racist of them: it is rational economic self-interest. Indeed, if you bar any opposition to, or concerns about, immigration as xenophobic, racist, etc, you are basically demanding that workers not be concerned about their interests and the interests of their family. (There is also good reason to think much of the benefits of expanded trade have gone to others.)

Given a choice between a candidate who tells the world that anyone with such concerns is a “deplorable” and a candidate who tells them that their concerns are legitimate and justified, who are they going to vote for? The answer is obvious: and, indeed, it is now electorally obvious.

It wasn’t racism that drove working class voters to The Donald, especially not the same working class voters who had voted for Obama twice: it was the Democrat’s embrace of the religion of anti-racism which drove them away from Hillary. Indeed, there were hints that the North-Western “Rust Belt” working class was shifting even before The Donald was a surreal possibility. The Donald simply capitalised on the market opportunity that the Democrats systematically handed to him; a market opportunity that Democrat progressivism has been progressively handing to Republicans for decades, but The Donald exploited much more precisely. (Apparently helped by a slick data operation.)

If the economics of immigration are conceived in terms of the winners being the migrants and the holders of capital (with the more capital, the bigger winner you are) and the losers being resident workers and those dependent on them, then the 2016 political alignment makes perfect sense–migrant groups, public sector folk, the welfare dependent, professionals and the wealthy voted for Hillary (Orange County voted Democrat for the first time since FDR); the working class and local business folk voted for The Donald. Especially given that low economic growth since 2008 provided less growth-goodies to offer and flat median income and wage growth since the 1970s says that many households have not been getting such goodies even when there was lots of growth. No racism is required as an explanation: on the contrary, that the electorate was less ethno-racially polarised than in 2012 makes perfect sense.

Really, it’s the economy, stupid. (And it is a rich irony that it was a Clinton campaign who got that so wrong–though not, apparently, Bill himself: but he always was a much better politician than his wife.) Hence the better performance of standard economic and political science models than poll-dependent ones in predicting the result. (With a political scientist who has published an excellent study of the American right being a particularly good predictor.)

Even better, the above analysis not only explains the election result, it also explains why The Donald won the Republican primaries. There really was a swathe of Republican voters who were (1) refugees from pro-immigration, identity-group Democratic politics that (2) conventional movement conservatism was not connecting to and that The Donald did. His politics may not have been movement conservative, but they actually harked back to a time when the Northern working class voted Republican, then the Party of protection.

Illegal immigration and ostentatious political powerlessness

All this without considering the constant progressivist rhetorical conflation of attitudes to immigration in general with attitudes to illegal immigration specifically. For most people, the vote is their only political lever. If laws are not being upheld, then they have no lever. Extolling illegal immigration is explicitly rubbing their face in their powerlessness. Of course they are going to react negatively. Sanctuary cities may play well as virtue signalling, but it also shouts to American voters how much say they are not having. (The disjunct between folk who apparently think every economic or other problem has a regulatory solution, yet shout their intention to subvert laws they don’t like, is also not exactly endearing.) Polling suggests American voters are strongly against illegal immigration (and are not keen on sanctuary cities either).

Consider The Donald’s infamous rant when announcing his candidacy that:

When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.

Let’s start with the obvious: he did not say that Mexicans were rapists. The message he was conveying, in typical The Donald rhetoric, was simple: a process that American voters have no control over is (1) one that they have no control over, (2) is not one that is likely to operate in their interests and (3) has obvious problems about who gets in.
By constantly insisting on the “racism! racism!” framing, not only was the mainstream media studiously missing the actual message, and feeding “the lying media” theme, they were also constantly broadcasting the negative association with illegal migrants, an association that got an automatic boost anytime any migrant did something criminal or otherwise problematic. They thought they were demolishing The Donald by pointing out his awful sinfulness; in fact, The Donald was playing them, and playing them all the way to the Presidency.
Meanwhile, in projection realm

If we move away from the electoral facts, and the sectoral economics of free trade and immigration, and to the devotees of the religion of anti-racism (not un-coincidentally, also those who work in the global markets of academe, IT, entertainment and the media) we see folk over-run with self-interested projection.Self-interested in that what they project onto others serves their economic (and status) interests. Projection, in that they insist on seeing an election marked by lowered ethno-racial polarisation in voting in ethno-racial terms: as “white won” or “the end of the postracial myth“. (What on earth is “post racial” about politics explicitly based on putting together a rainbow coalition of ethnic, racial and other identities?)

But projection that is also utterly hypocritical in ethno-racial terms. If African-Americans overwhelming vote as a racial bloc, that’s just great. If Hispanics strongly vote in a particular direction, that’s fine too. But if white folk vote much less tribally, that’s clearly a result of evil racism. This is projection that is way, way into self-delusion. They are not only not listening to other folk, they aren’t listening to themselves.

Here is a basic fact of identity politics: identity politics requires counter-identities, folk that you are being protected from. People who then become repositories of blame to hold your identity coalition together. Everything bad becomes the fault of the bad folk: more specifically in the American context, bad white folk. (How you identify bad white folk? They are the ones who wilfully refuse to see how much of the bad things that happen are the fault of bad white folk.)

Being repositories of blame makes it very hard for such folk to vote for you: they will obviously seek a different framing of political issues. This is what the Republicans have provided somewhat for decades, but The Donald provided in much more targeted fashion.

But, in the self-serving, self-reflecting world of identity-projection politics, rejecting your framing, the framing of Good Folk Who Understand And Care, can only be understood in the same way all disagreement outside the framing is understood; as the malicious group projection (racism, misogyny, homophobia, Islamophobia, transphobia, etc) which is behind everything that doesn’t turn out “right”. No other framing of politics is to be accepted and any move to change the framing is, by definition, motivated by evil, malicious projection. The pattern is completely self-referential: so self-referential, no other perspective is allowed in.

Hence the hugely overblown claims about the Republican’s Southern Strategy, based on the deeply stupid idea that Southern whites were going to remain unrepresented, and completely failing to notice that the Republican Party changed the framing of Southern politics. Since, of course, not following the framing insisted on by postmodern identity progressivism is, itself, evil.

If you think this is an implicitly totalitarian mentality, you would be right. A mentality that is increasingly replicating within “mainstream” Western media and public discourse the so-easily-mocked disconnect between reality and public approved thinking that marked Soviet bloc countries.

The disconnect being particularly strong when dramatic events that cried out for different framings–such as jihadi attacks, or serious criminal activity–nevertheless had the identity-projection framing imposed on them. The arrogant, tone-deaf cognitive insularity involved alienates anyone not committed to said framing while providing a wonderful opportunity for political and ideological opponents.

Part of the problem has been the growth of knowledge elite or eduction gap politics: if knowledge is simply expertise, then folk can apply their various values and get various results. If, however, knowledge becomes confused with moral wisdom, so that “the consensus of my educated social milieu” is confused with “the good”, then serious moral or political disagreement (particularly views not represented in said educated, and so knowledge-defined, social milieu) becomes illegitimate. With the malice-projections of identity politics being the currently preferred device for asserting such “moral wisdom” and the illegitimacy of disagreement. (See this screed for belittling rage at cognitive difference–that is, belittling rage at others about differences that are so much less consequential than implied.)

The Alt Right distraction

With enough intensity, prosecuting identity politics does encourage the development of counter-identities–what the Alt Right is essentially doing. But that was far from the focus of The Donald’s campaign.

Indeed, apart from means of doing end-runs around a hostile media (developed particularly during Gamergate), whose main electoral significance was to encourage working class voters in the industrial North-West in their increasing confidence that The Donald would not be media-bullied into not talking about the issues they cared about, there is precious little evidence of the Alt Right having much other significance of the election result. That the only prominent alleged Alt Right figure in The Donald’s inner circle is Steve Bannononline media CEO, then makes sense–media mechanics are where any Alt Right influence mattered, not substantive electoral politics. Especially given the electoral results were, in fact, less electorally ethno-racially polarised than in the previous Presidential election.

If one Party seeks to be the Party of Minorities and Migrants (the Democrats) then, in a dynamic two-Party system, the other Party will be the Party of not-such-groups (the Republicans). Since minorities and migrants are overwhelmingly concentrated in the major cities, that makes their rivals the party of rural and small town America; with the suburbs as contested terrain. Which also makes the latter the intact-family Party and the stable-social-expectations Party.

Oh look, the current dynamics of American two-Party politics–including the pattern of increasing division into one-Party jurisdictions— explained without any reference to racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia, etc.

This is particularly important with regard to racism because, when one looks for hard evidence of actual racism (not things framed as racism, parsed as racism, or re-characterised as racism) but actual serious differential treatment on the basis of race, in American society, the evidence is just not there, except as a marginal phenomenon.

Thus, to take two prominent examples, race has little effect on income corrected for productivity or on incarceration rates corrected for law-breaking. Even black-white dynamics in the US can be overwhelmingly explained by the social implications of two factors: (1) the much higher homicide and crime rate of African-Americans and (2) their significantly lower average IQ [pdf] (and all the myriad social outcomes IQ is correlated with, particularly group outcomes).

The most self-serving politics in the US are not epitomised by the Republican Party, but by urban, global market (and therefore globalist) postmodern identity progressivists who refuse to see people as they are and insist on framing issues, events and people in ways that serve their own status and economic interests while keeping themselves utterly trapped in a shared, narcissistic bubble of self-regard. A very attractive narcissistic bubble that has come to dominate the industries which are supposed to reflect a society back to itself, and which so fail to do so; indeed, fail spectacularly badly to do so.

With, in the case of the mainstream media, the lack of standing to match; indeed their public regard is clearly falling. This is hardly surprising, given the contempt with which they so often regard most of their fellow citizens–a point which applies especially to the stunning low levels of confidence by Republican voters in the mainstream media. (And confidence in the media among independent voters is hardly impressive either.)

The result of the progressivist bubble realm’s collective narcissistic self-regard, their self-serving failure to do the most basic tasks of what they are supposed to be about, what they are allegedly trained and paid to be about, has been the elevation to the US Presidency of a billionaire demagogue with a postmodern media persona. A result of an interlocking pattern of official progressivist politics (the Democrats), progressivist media and the de-stabilising of the Republican establishment. (Unsurprisingly, Brexit had somewhat similar dynamics.)

But, with few exceptions (apparently The Hollywood Reporter is a good place to go for media self-reflection), those in the projection realm have and will, blame their fellow citizens, completely blind to the depths of their own self-delusion, and their moral and intellectual failure. Because it is all about The Good People Who Care And Understand, and if you don’t get that, you are racist, homophobic, misogynist, Islamophobic, transphobic and fill-in-the-blank hateful.

[Cross-posted from Thinking Out Aloud.]

Understanding the 2016 US Presidential election

By Lorenzo

We humans are excellent at motivated reasoning: taking a preferred framing and using it to “explain” events. The more highly educated we are, the better we are at it.

We homo sapiens are also a profoundly cultural species. In particular, we are moralising, status-conscious, coalition builders. We have a powerful, apparently inbuilt, tendency to copy behaviour which either has prestige or comes from folk with prestige. Which gives us even more reasons to buy into framings that reinforce a sense of who we are and where we (seek to) fit.

So, when dealing with something as fraught as the 2016 US Presidential elections, it is best to start, as much as possible, with the empirics: in this case, the voting statistics. The following post is based on the voting statistics from David Leip’s Atlas of US elections–a very informative and easily accessed resource.

In 2016, as in 2000, the Republican ticket won the Electoral College, though the Democratic ticket won the popular vote. This is a fairly rare event in US political history (it happened previously in 18241876 and 1888), so to have it happen twice in 5 elections is noteworthy.

So, comparing the 2000 and 2016 Presidential elections, several things stand out. (All figures are rounded up to a single decimal point.)

In both elections, the third Party vote was above 2%. 

The third Party vote totalled 3.8% in 2000, mainly due to Ralph Nader’s candidacy for the Greens winning 2.7% of the vote. It was 5.6% in 2016, mainly due to Gary Johnson’s candidacy for the Libertarians winning 3.3% of the vote.

In both elections, the Democratic popular vote win was due to California.

In both the 2000 and 2016 elections, the Republican ticket won the popular vote in the rest of the USA. Since California, like most states, uses a “winner take all” system for its Electoral College delegate selection and since it is leaning more and more Democratic, there is less and less reason for Republican Presidential campaigns to put any effort in campaigning there.

We can see this effect in the Californian results. In 2000, Al Gore won California 5.9m votes to 4.6m votes. In 2016, Hillary Clinton won California 7.4m votes to 3.9m votes.

In 2000, George W Bush won the rest of the US popular vote by 0.7m votes. In 2016, Donald Trump won the rest of the US popular vote by 1.8m votes. In both elections, the Democrat advantage in California was larger than the Republican advantage in the rest of the US.

The two elections had very different dynamics compared to the previous Presidential election

The most striking difference in the two elections was how well the Party tickets did compared to the immediately prior Presidential election. In 2016, Donald Trump increased the Republican vote over 2012 by 1m votes. In 2000, George W Bush increased the Republican vote over 1996 by 11.3m–largely due to the collapse in the Reform Party vote.

In 2000, Al Gore increased the Democrat vote over 1996 by 3.6m. In 2016, Hillary Clinton lost 2.4m votes over 2012. (In both elections, the Democrats were the Presidential incumbent Party.)

If we look at the pattern over the previous two elections, in 2012 Mitt Romney increased the Republican vote by 1m while Barack Obama lost 3.6m votes. In other words, Donald Trump essentially replicated Mitt Romney’s increase in popular votes while Hillary Clinton continued the decline in the Democratic popular vote, but not quite as much.

So, what we see is a steady trajectory over the 2012 and 2016 Presidential elections–the Democratic popular vote declining significantly, albeit at a slightly slower rate; the Republican vote increasing at a significantly slower, but steady, rate. In votes for President, the Republicans have not been surging nearly as much as the Democrats have been going backwards.  Which strongly suggests analysis should not concentrate on what the Republicans were doing right so much as what the Democrats have been doing wrong.

In popular vote terms, the Democrats currently dominate Presidential politics

In the 7 US Presidential elections after 1988, the Republicans have won the popular vote once: in 2004. But they have won the Presidency 3 times: 2000, 2004, 2016. As, however, the Democrat dominance in the popular vote is essentially a California effect, their popular vote failures may be something of a warning to the Republicans but, short of changing how the Electoral College works (either by abolishing it, or eliminating “winner takes all”) the political significance of that will continue to be muted.

Given that the Republicans continue to dominate Congressional and State politics, a constitutional amendment to change the Presidential selection system seems somewhat unlikely. Indeed, the Republican domination of State politics is striking:

Republican America is now so vast that a traveler could drive 3,600 miles across the continent, from Key West, Fla., to the Canadian border crossing at Porthill, Idaho, without ever leaving a state under total GOP control.

Who goes backwards?

As the US population continues to grow, and as it remains very much a Two-Party state, with very strong institutional barriers to third Parties getting anywhere, Democratic or Republican tickets going backwards in the popular vote is somewhat noteworthy. George H W Bush managed it in 1988 (-5.6m) and 1992 (-9.8m).  John McCain managed it in 2008 (-2.1m). The only Democratic candidates to manage it in that time have been Barack Obama in 2012 (-3.6m) and Hillary Clinton (-2.4m).

The Republican Presidential vote has been relatively steady since George W Bush’s win in 2004:

2004  62.0m
2008  60.0m
2012  60.9m
2016  61.9m

The Democratic Presidential vote has been much more variable in that time:

2004  59.0m
2008  69.5m
2012  65.9m
2016  63.6m

The Republicans seem to have more solidly attached votes, the Democrats a larger “floating” vote. Donald Trump got (slightly) less votes than President Bush in 2004, despite 12 years of population growth, while continuing the slow increase in the Republican vote since 2008. Hillary Clinton got more votes than John Kerry in 2004 while continuing the significant decline in the Democratic vote since 2008.

Starting with the electoral facts

The story of the 2016 election is the continuing Democratic decline in votes being significantly larger than the slow Republican increase in votes. The story is not how The Donald and the Republicans won the general election, the story is how Hillary and the Democrats lost. Any analysis that does not start from there is imposing its framing on the election. Especially as the much vaunted switch of the “Rust Belt” white working class to the Republicans seems to have been underway from 2012, long before The Donald’s upset win in the Republican primaries was even a surreal possibility.

The victory story for The Donald is how he won the Republican primaries. An analysis which can tie that to the Democrat decline in Presidential votes is one worth considering.

 [Cross-posted from Thinking Out Aloud.]

Globalisation, internationalisation and globalism

By Lorenzo

It has become something of an analytical commonplace to see the rise of populist nationalism (or national populism)–the development of nationalist parties in Europe, the Brexit vote in the UK and The Donald winning the Electoral College (and thus the US Presidency) in the US–as signifying “a revolt against globalisation”.

That is not a useful way of looking at the phenomenon. Particularly not in the case of Brexit, given that prominent supporters of Brexit were pro free trade and, according to polling, the British electorate at large is very strongly pro-trade.

Three different phenomena have to be distinguished:

globalisationthe increasing range and density of cross-border transactions of all varieties, including (in some ways especially) the flow of information. Globalisation is driven by falling transport and communication costs.

internationalisationincreasing use of international organisations to make or adjudicate policy decisions. The EU is internationalisation par excellence, but there are many manifestations of it, including the WTO and the International Criminal Court.

globalismadvocacy of rising international flows of goods, services and finance, of internationalisation and high levels of migration. Globalism is a set of policy positions, amounting to something close to articles of faith: particularly supporting migration.

There is nothing about globalisation per se that requires internationalisation or globalism. One can be quite hostile to internationalisation and high levels of migration without, for example, being hostile to  international trade. (This the position of quite a strong majority of Britons, according to polling, for example, though controlling immigration apparently trumps trade.)

An obvious objection to internationalisation is that it undermines democratic accountability–people may elect those who appoint those who run the relevant organisations, but their decisions are only (at best) very weakly subject to democratic oversight. (And doing an end-run around domestic interest groups can be the point of such arrangements.)

This then also becomes an objection to globalism. The other clear point of contention with globalism is migration.

The migration sticking point

The standard line among “serious” folk is that migration is good for one’s economy. Well, it can be, but it need not be. The migration of Palestinians into Lebanon was, for example, very bad for the Lebanese economy because it destabilised Lebanese politics leading directly to the Lebanese Civil War. The pressures, and political responses, to mass migration in the Antebellum US helped destabilise it, being part of the events that led to the American Civil War. Yes, both polities had serious internal fissures, but the notion that immigration cannot be de-stabilising is patent nonsense.

To take a milder example, the Nordic model of high levels of social provision and high levels of economic freedom relies quite crucially on strong connections and easy communication between officials and public based on shared expectations and values to permit relatively high efficiency in provisions of social services. The more diverse the spread of expectation and values are among the population, the more difficult such a high tax-spend social equilibrium becomes. Muslim migration to Sweden and other Nordic countries must tend to, over time, make that social equilibrium less stable–particularly as such a narrow range of migrants are being imported, making it much less likely that Nordic norms will be adopted by the newcomers and much more likely that Islamic norms will operate as a counter-identity. Migration may not de-stabilise the polity as such (though the rise of the Sverigedemokraterna or Sweden Democrats has upset the structures of Swedish politics) but it can certainly de-stabilise the existing policy regime.

Treating immigration as an unalloyed good, and migrants as an undifferentiated mass, is propagandistic nonsense. That does not stop folk being outraged when the costs of migration are raised, or when folk suggest that there might be reasons to differentiate between sources of migrants. For example, there is no benefit from Muslim migrants that are not available from other migrants. There are costs from Muslim migrants which are either specific to, or particularly intense among, Muslims. Of course lots of folk are sceptical about Muslim migration.

This is not opposition to globalisation. It is not even opposition to migration–a poll that found almost half of Australians thought Muslim migration had been bad for Australia also found that almost 70% were comfortable with more migration. Dismissing the hostility to Muslim migration as xenophobia, racism, anti-immigrant, anti-globalisation simply epitomises the way language taboos are used to discount popular concerns and (worse) do so by degrading the moral status of fellow citizens. The contrast with the po-faced pieties whereby Islamic jihadism is framed until it is not even Islamic screams the contempt for fellow citizens, and the moral mascot/sacred victim elevation of newcomers, involved in so much globalist self-congratulation.

Which is just the sort of smug hostility to citizen concerns that fuels opposition to globalism. Globalists have an interest in framing opposition to their preferred policies, and the ways in which they are pushed, as opposition to globalisation, because it redirects away from critical scrutiny of themselves and their preferred policy outcomes.

The economics of migration

Folk do better in Western countries. This is an obvious truth which fuels migration to those countries. Once, however, one begins to consider other issues, the issues regarding migration become much more complex.

We can dismiss immediately the fact that more people buying and selling makes an economy bigger. That is true, but not the key issue for existing citizens. What are the per capita effects, and how are they distributed, is what matters for domestic politics and democratic accountability. Citing the benefits to non-citizens as reasons to over-rule the concerns of actual citizens is fundamentally opposed to any serious concept of democratic accountability. That sort of globalism is more-or-less guaranteed to generate popular hostility, as an obvious response to its hostility to the populace.

Once we start looking at the per capita effects, the economics of migration becomes much more complicated. If one’s analytical model is unable to usefully differentiate between people in the economy, then it is unable to provide analysis in anyway useful for understanding the implications of migration. Hence, all (single) representative agent models can be dismissed.

If the net benefits of migration accrue to the newcomers and top income quintile, for example, then the general public is being told to accept a policy which is not in their interests. Suggesting they are not allowed to object is again hostile to democratic accountability while citing economic studies which do not usefully differentiate the effects of migration between various groups in the society is propaganda parading as argument. (Even more so, if said models do not differentiate between various types of migrants either.)

Effects on housing, for example, provide a good example of the analytical difficulties. Bringing in migrants will, in sufficiently supply-constrained housing markets, drive up house prices and rents. That is increased economic activity (of a sort) but clearly one that benefits folk owning housing and not folk who rent. Unless one’s economic model quantifies the effects of driving up shelter costs on non-homeowners, and assigns that cost to the relevant groups (and the benefit to others) then it will register the effect of migration as a net benefit, even though significant groups of citizens are being directly disadvantaged by that effect from migration. Especially as having lots of non-citizens (and so non-voters) among entrants to housing markets makes it easier to politically discount the interests of such entrants and so set up regulatory supply constraints on land for housing.

Then there are the dynamic and social interaction costs of migration. Economics still lacks a robust model of long-term economic growth able to explain the wildly disparate performance of economies–the wildly disparate performance which drives so much migration towards Western countries in the first place. Unless an economic model can incorporate the dynamic effects of different groups of migrants on the functioning of the society, it cannot make useful analysis of the long term effects of migration. Which, in the absence of said robust model, economic models currently cannot. What economic model can, for example, incorporate having to add security guards to swimming pools, and the shift in ordinary social expectations and experience that entails, in the net effects of migration? The effects of systematically lowering the level of trust in a receiving society are very much part of the potential implications of migration.

Consider the effect of substantial migration on the scarce good of policy and political attention. Bringing in lots of migrants, particularly under the rubric of multiculturalism, which lowers the cost of migration to the newcomers but raises it for the residents, has meant that policy and political attention gets directed towards the newcomers. Especially when they live where the policy makers live, and where those commanding the “cultural commanding heights” live. Which means less policy and political attention gets applied to areas where that is not so. If you think folk do not notice, you are not paying attention.  That support for Brexit was stronger in areas with less migration has been commented on as if this shows how “stupid” Brexit voters were. On the contrary, it showed that voters in such areas noticed the attention they weren’t getting: which was precisely the point.

Add in the tendency to speak as if migration somehow “redeems” the society, and the wider tendency to disparage the culture and history of Western societies (treating then as Haan history repositories of sin rather than Whig history repositories of achievement) and the cost of migration mounts further. Resident citizens are not only being downgraded in terms of policy and political attention, they are, in a signifiant and serious sense, being systematically culturally disrespected and downgraded in status. Costs which are again not incorporated into economic models.

Finally, mass migration has genuine potential to go horribly wrong. Sufficiently misconstrued migration policy can significantly destabilise societies and/or undermine what makes societies attractive destinations in the first place. Refusal to even admit this possibility actually makes it more likely, not less.

In the US, the failure of median incomes to increase suggests that, whatever benefits migration and trade are generating to the US economy, those benefits are either not reaching a significant number of folk or are being overwhelmed by other factors. If significant political and policy attention is not paid to, or analysts fail to provide and propagate effectively good explanations for those outcomes, then folk can hardly be blamed for reaching for easy explanations.

There is a great deal of not-noticing arrogance in globalism, and a significant strain of hostility to democratic accountability. The self-serving appeal for globalists in parading popular hostility that their failings (and smug arrogances) generate as “hostility to globalisation” is obvious. It is not, however, a parading which should be accepted. The actual story is rather more complicated and, until folk notice those complications, more popular revolts can be expected.


[Cross-posted from Thinking Out Aloud.]

ADDENDA: The working class resentment of professional folk who “order them around every day” noted in this insightful piece is also relevant. Globalist politics are the politics of the professional class in particular and globalist politics all too often epitomise the “the dorky arrogance and smugness of the professional elite“. Expertise is not wisdom; even more as experts are prone to over-estimate how much they actually know and then confuse that over-estimation with wisdom. Add in sermonising (and the motivated reasoning such naturally entails) and they can be deeply blind to what they do not see and even more blind to how they seem.

Multiculturalism is an experiment that might fail

By Lorenzo

Multiculturalism has become a sacred marker of progressivism: one absolutely has to be in favour of multiculturalism, or one is not a good person. A person seriously critical of (let alone hostile to) multiculturalism is, in fact, outside the moral pale.

There are deep problems with this. First is defining what one means by multiculturalism–there are quite a wide range of possible meanings. It can cover a rather wider range in possible approaches than the alternative of assimilation (which can come in various versions itself). Assimilation seeks to have migrants conform to the culture of the residents so that their norms and expectations come to fall within existing patterns. This means that existing institutions and patterns of behaviour can continue with minimum disruption. Obviously this makes migration much less threatening and disruptive to the existing citizens.

Compared to assimilation, multiculturalism makes rather less requirements on migrants to adapt to the society they are moving to and rather more requirements on the existing citizens to adapt to migrants coming in. The expected, indeed extolled result, is for a far wider spread of norms and expectations to become the pattern of the society, which is much more likely to significantly alter how existing institutions, policies and patterns of behaviour operate. Obviously, this is likely to be much more disruptive and potentially threatening to current citizens. In effect, multiculturalism lowers the costs of migration to immigrants but raises them for the existing citizens. In the longer run, there are issues about whether the effect will be to reduce the benefits and functioning of the society which made it an attractive destination in the first place. (NB: Australia is an exception to much of this post, largely for reasons discussed in the previous post.)

This points to the second problem with using multiculturalism as being the only morally acceptable approach–that any policy regime has upsides and downsides: in the realm of public policy, there are no complete solutions, there are only trade-offs.

If adherence to a policy regime becomes a marker of elementary moral decency then the ability to look critically at that policy–to identify and attempt to deal with its inevitable downsides–is greatly damaged. Not least, because we enter into the realm of “wicked facts”: things which are true, or are likely to be true, or could become true, but cannot be uttered in morally decent company. It is the standard problem with sacredness: by creating an absolutely trumping Virtue, it ends up being hostile to facts, function and freedom.

Looking at history, there are basically three ways a multicultural order can operate.

Imperial order

The first is what we might call an imperial order. Empires are almost always multicultural polities. There is a dominant group which rules over other groups with different cultures: the dominant group maintains order and manages interactions between the groups under its rule. A classic version of imperial order multiculturalism is the millet system of the Ottoman Empire.

Empires can last for centuries, but they always eventually come apart and the modern era has been particularly unkind to imperial structures.

The pressures of modernity and the adoption of new political forms can destabilise an existing order. The Ottoman millet system was based solidly on Muslim dominance, and was de-stabilised by Western attempts to push equal treatment before the law (leading to the Hamidian massacres of the 1890s) and then the adoption of Turkish nationalism.  The combination of these two impulses, plus the stress of the Great War, lead to the ArmenianPontic-Greek and Assyrian genocides and the recurring difficulties with Turkey’s large Kurdish minority.

Contesting tribalism

The second we might call contesting tribalism. The political order is a constant struggle between tribal/identity groups. If electoral politics are the go in such a polity, one ends up with people voting for appalling candidates because, if the other side wins, their tribe is cut out of the goodies.

Hillary Clinton’s now infamous remark about a “basket of deplorables” says “not of our tribe” while The Donald’s campaign gets a great deal of its fervour from people who feel alienated from the people and processes that make decisions in their society.

But multi-identity polities falling apart nastily has been something of a recurring pattern–notably in the Lebanese Civil War and the break up of Yugoslavia. The troubles of Sri Lanka came out of the adoption of Sinhalese chauvinism as a political strategy. The Lebanese state survives only because it functions so minimally.

Forge a common identity

One of the buzz-words in historical studies is ethnogenesis: the creating of ethnic identities. Ethnic identities are not given for all time: they are created and evolve. Often they are created from quite disparate groups. In 1910, there was no “Palestinian people”. Now, there most certainly is.

The British Empire attempted to create an overarching identity of British subject, and, in the British Isles, a notion of British patriotism: one might be English, Scottish, Welsh, Irish, Cornish, Orkney but one was first and foremost British.

Building patriotism–identification with a common polity–is often an attempt to over-ride various competing particularist loyalties, notably nationalism–identification with an ethnic group conceived as a political project. Anyone can get with the project of patriotism: nationalism, not so much.

The Roman Empire used the notion of Roman citizen as a way of creating an encompassing identity. In the C19th, the United States quite deliberately set out with its public school systems, and a heroic national historical narrative, to “build Americans”.

These approaches can bleed into each other. The Christian Roman Empire attempted to create a common Christian identity–leading to oppression of Jews and debilitating theological strife. The Russian Empire attempted to Russify its subjects (which mostly failed).

About that democracy thing

Of the three–imperial ordercontesting tribalism and common identity–the only successfully democratic option, and a viable one if various institutions support the effort, is the creation of an over-arching common identity. This does not involve eliminating cultural and other identities, but building a shared identity over the top.

Some form of patriotism is not an optional extra in a functioning democracy, it is a necessary element. If sufficient people do not identify in certain crucial respects more with their polity of residence than with identities which either link them with conflicts and perspectives outside the polity, or which profoundly divide them from other groups within the polity, one cannot have effective common policies, just variations on identity-spoil systems. Especially if folk are “locked into” subsidiary identities conceived as requiring political loyalty, so are not open to common persuasion or participation.

A certain adherence to common norms and common expectations is necessary to have a common language of politics and effective commonality in policy. (If one wanted to identify a single reason why indigenous policy in Australia has been so problematic, it is not being based in any serious sense on dealing with very deep differences in expectations about social interactions that paloeolithic-foraging cultures have from farming-commercial cultures.)

At the core of the problem with progressivist multiculturalism is that it, in effect, wants to be an imperial order–having a globalising elite “managing” the various ethnic and identity groups under its sway–while pretending (although the pretence is getting thinner and thinner) to adhere to democratic norms. (Liberal norms, notably freedom of speech and opinion, are increasingly on the discard pile.)

Imperial-globalising multiculturalism presumes that the bulk of the existing citizens are happy to be treated as colonised peons in what is ostensibly their own country. Including being sold a multiculturalism that means people must change to suit the newcomers, adherence to internationalising structures with dubious democratic credentials, associated judicial activism and their “betters” ruling various concerns and issues illegitimate. As various referendum and election results are demonstrating, not so much.

Even as an exercise in promoting economic growth, a migration policy which assumes that the “right sort” of multiculturalism will solve any difficulties will not be successful if it is driving locals, particularly the higher skill locals, away.

In particular, it is not going to improve a society by turning a high trust society into a low trust one. (Such as increased risk of violent death or, more mundanely, shifting to having security guards at swimming pools.)

As the multicultural-imperium option pretends not to be actually imperial, and is operating in democratic polities, it cannot overtly trade protection for acceptance of dominance in the normal imperial style. The result is that it is going for its own (rather strange due to progressivist pieties) version of Russification or Roman Christianisation, whereby folk constantly state the wonders of diversity (the overarching ideological identity), yet repeatedly pathologise diversity (the imperial project)–being hostile to cognitive diversity, treating diversity in social outcomes as presumptively illegitimate and trying to flatten out moral nuance in favour of narratives whose surface patina of sophistication hides a deep (somewhat Manichaean) underlying simplicity.

All of this based on the idea that if everyone just agrees with whatever is the current set of progressivist pieties (they keep changing), then all will be fine. Which is a fraud and a delusion, as ideas that everyone agrees with fail as status-markers, so the moral envelope must be continually pushed (transgender toilets anyone?), to keep the distinguishing sense of superior status going.

Worse, as the progressive concept of multiculturalism explicitly involves pushing specific favoured identities as the basis of political action–and non-favoured ones as repositories of blame–it actively encourages the former groups to focus their identity and action in the designated groups (and people within to try and capture being the “authentic” leaders of such) while also inevitably encouraging retreat into counter-identities among those designated as repositories of blame. The notion that such identity politics is something that only “nice” people will play is nonsense on stilts. But if your entire political strategy rests on creating repositories of blame, that is how it will play out. The post-modern identity progressivists have projected their own obsessions with racial/national identity onto others so successfully, that they are managing to revive them.

Moreover, an identity or loyalty which is a repository of blame cannot effectively be a repository of achievement. The existing cultural and political identities are seen, not merely as being enriched by multiculturalism, but of being redeemed by them, for these historical states and cultures are portrayed as bearing both historical guilt (racism! colonialism! imperialism! slavery!) and current sinfulness (racism! homophobia! islamophobia! sexism! rape culture!). All of which adds to the disorientation and alienation, as to be stripped of any sense of embedded achievement is to be stripped of frameworks of expectation and hope. Folk come to associate multiculturalism and immigration (quite correctly) with identity-progressivism’s systematic attack on their own polity and identity. Which then makes migration in particular much more threatening than it needs to be.

It is also raises fairly obvious questions and comebacks. For example, if white folk are so potentially toxic, why do so many people want to live in societies dominated by them? Because, obviously, they aren’t. All this railing about alleged racism in the US in particular comes up against the brute fact that every group does better in the US than where they came from. Even after, in the case of African-Americans, passing through slavery.

Personally, I regard whiteness as having very little to do with Western history: i.e. I regard low levels of melanin as much less significant than progressivists appear to. But the problem with obsessing with racial sins is one ends up reading racial causes into history which simply do not fit. (For example, racism does not cause slavery or imperialism, but both can, in particular circumstances, end up generating racism.)

When one looks at the history of racism in particular, it arises out of interactions between elite politics, moral framings and mass sentiments. Given that those dominating the “commanding heights” of culture nowadays grade folk on opinion (the organising principle of PC being your worth as a person depends on your opinions, hence the increasing rejection of liberal norms that your worth as a person grants you freedom of speech and opinion) and are ostentatiously anti-racist it is not surprising that the evidence is that actual racism is low and declining while people have become more hostile to inter-Party marriage than inter-racial marriage (i.e. opinion bigotry is overtaking racial bigotry precisely because opinion-bigotry is the dominant bigotry among the elites). Though the counter-identity defensive retreat into national (or even racial) identities is giving race and explicitly nationalist (rather than more broadly patriotic) views more of an “in” than they have had in more recent decades.

As much of this progressivism is clearly about status building, the push back from those being continually “dumped” upon actually helps the status game, as it gives so many fellow citizens to feel superior to. The preference for political debates about migration and multiculturalism to go “feral” in such a way is revealed by the hostility to approaches likely to block such outcomes: especially attempts to appeal to concerns and sentiments deemed inherently “wrong” (i.e. held by the morally inferior).

The pushing of multiculturalism as a sacred value ends up in a situation where the adherents to its sacredness cannot see themselves (let alone how they seem to others), cannot see how much they do not see their own citizens and cannot grapple honestly with the genuine difficulties of managing multicultural polities. All of which makes it much more likely multiculturalism will fail, precisely because it is treated as if it cannot (except, of course, if it is not adopted thoroughly enough because, hey, sacred). Sweden is already becoming the country folk can point to about how badly wrong it can all go, though the UK’s Rotherham and other sexual exploitation scandals also provide warning examples.

A policy that cannot be wrong, merely insufficiently adhered to, is actually more vulnerable to failure, not less. It is an “unsinkable” RMS Titanic, adrift among all-too-real icebergs.

To say that this is not going to end well is redundant, because anyone not blinded by the alleged sacredness can see that it is already trending badly in various Western countries and will get worse.


ADDENDA. This interview with an young Iraqi-Australian woman is a good reminder that multiculturalism in Australia is not without its problems either: including police being able to add “it’s their culture” to the list of excuses not to get involved in “domestics”.

FURTHER ADDENDA. This post by Michael Lind includes the following comment on consociational polities:

An alternate model is the institutionalization of permanently distinct ethnic or racial or religious groups, known as “consociational democracy.” In this model, not only individual but also ethnic or religious groups are formally represented in politics and public policy. Versions of consociationalism — guaranteeing numerical representation in national legislatures and other institutions — exist in multi-ethnic Switzerland, post-apartheid South Africa, and the bi-national polities of Canada and Belgium.
Consociational democracy works best where the constituent ethnic groups are relatively stable in numbers. If one group grows more rapidly than the other, or if immigration introduces entirely new groups to the mix, then the delicate compromises of consociational power-sharing tend to break down.

In terms of the ideal types discussed above, such polities are something of a half-way house between contesting tribalism and overarching identity. I would argue that the tendency is to go one way or the other. The Swiss have long since developed an overarching identity, Belgium not so much, Yugoslavia failed. Lebanon was destabilised by the Palestinian influx, Canadian identity appears to be strong enough to incorporate the Quebecois, and South Africa is a case of way too early to tell.

[Cross-posted from Thinking Out Aloud.]

Why hasn’t the politics of immigration in Australia gone feral?

By Lorenzo

As one contemplates the rise in anti-immigration parties in Europe, and the fraught politics of immigration in the US, it is very striking how little political angst Australia’s very high level of immigration has caused. True, the nationalist One Nation Party recently scored 4 Senators in the 2016 Federal Election, but that was on 4.3% of the national vote.

With the collapse of socialism as a serious alternative to capitalism, and the consequent convergence in the economic policies of the (centre-left) ALP and the (centre-right) LNP Coalition (part of a wider pattern across Western democracies), there has been a floating “not them” vote in Australian politics which has latched on to various vehicles over the years: this is just another iteration.

The ALP and Coalition still scored almost two-thirds of the Senate vote, and over three-quarters of the House of Representatives vote: that the result was so close said much more about the Coalition campaign and incumbent PM Malcolm Turnbull‘s Premiership than something deeper.

So, the question is why does Australia’s high immigration levels (much higher than the US, for example) cause remarkably little political angst?

The why can be understood by focusing on three individuals.

Talking it out, thinking it through

The first is Arthur Calwell (1896-1973) Immigration minister from 1945-49 in the postwar Chifley Labor Government. A good Labor man, Calwell was a staunch advocate of the White Australia policy (famously saying, over a wrongful deportation case, that “two Wongs don’t make a White“).

Calwell was the primary political architect of Australia’s postwar immigration policy. The crucial element being that Australia had a serious and open debate among migration policy: it was not an ad hoc response to various pressures, but a considered (and publicly debated) national strategy.

There were considerable adjustments along the way (notably the abandonment of White Australia) but, as the original political architect of Australia’s postwar immigration policy, Calwell openly embraced the notion that Australia would deliberately look beyond the British Isles for migrants, famously coining the term New Australians. The Australian national identity was set up as something people not only could join, but were being deliberately recruited to join.

Because it was a deliberate national strategy, over time, Australian pragmatism was applied to the operation of the strategy. Including sensible things such as interpreter services and seeking to have a broad range of migrants selected by criteria that suited Australia’s national interests.

Moreover, the key elements were debated in a period when views could be much more openly expressed on such matters. One of the aspects poisoning the politics of immigration in contemporary countries is the willingness to point-and-shriek (racist! xenophobe!) at anyone who expresses any negative concerns about immigration. It inhibits many people from expressing their concerns, drives the politics of concern over immigration towards those more willing to put up with the abuse (typically, the more ideologically passionate) and seriously inhibits responding intelligently to issues about patterns and operation of migration.

It is not that Australia is entirely immune to this deeply pernicious trend, it is that much of the key issues regarding migration were thrashed out before the rise of the use of the rhetoric of denunciation (racist! xenophobe! Islamohpobe!, etc) to poison public debate. And such rhetoric, and the pointing-and-shrieking that goes with it, does poison public debate; not least because the point of said rhetoric is to block engaging with the concerns of those subject to the rhetoric of denunciation. (As, by definition, “racist” and “xenophobic” concerns are not morally legitimate.) Identifying such “moral untouchables” also identifies them as people not “fit” to take part in the national conversation, so not “fit” to have a say in public policy.

Avoiding economic stress

The second individual is Bernie Fraser, Governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) 1989-96. It was while he was Governor that the RBA adopted the monetary policy of:

keeping underlying inflation between 2 and 3 per cent, on average, over the [business] cycle

which has resulted in Australia having avoided a recession (defined as two consecutive quarters of negative economic growth) since 1993. Having an economy which has produced steady economic growth without a major crisis makes it much easier to avoid immigration and migrants becoming a focus of resentment and concern.

But Australia having a thought-out migration strategy should also get credit, as importing migrants with relatively high level of human (and other) capital means that the labour/capital balance of the Australian economy has not shifted against labour, allowing (along with targeted welfare policy: indeed, the most downwardly redistributive [pdf] welfare policy in the OECD) Australians in general to share in the benefits of economic growth. This a balance that, for example, the US has spectacularly failed to achieve. (See this post on a paper on differences in average competence of migrant flows.)

Pro-migration folk often point out that migrants raise domestic demand for goods and services. That is true, but that still leaves open who supplies that demand and with what return. Importing lots of low-skill workers reduces the return to resident low skill workers (due to reduced relative scarcity) but increases the return to capital (due to increased relative scarcity). Badly structured migration flows can increase inequality in a society and adversely affect the interests of significant numbers of resident workers. (Historical demographer Peter Turchin puts together a striking model incorporating such effects here.)

Yes, increased population means a larger economy. But what matters much for political effects are the per capita effects, particularly the distribution of benefits. The US, for example, has managed a pretty stable rate of overall per capita economic growth during both high and low migration periods. But it is not likely to be entirely a coincidence that is after the post-1965 broadening in the number and sources of migration that US economic growth became increasingly decoupled from wage growth. During the later C19th, the level of migration was so large, that the average height of US-born men fell, a strong indicator of negative effects on their standard of living from mass migration.

Increasing diversity in a society also makes it harder to reach agreement over contentious issues,* hence it is important to have migration policy itself be well grounded in broad interests. Particularly as there is good reason to think that the content of the migrant intake matters for a country’s longer term prospects. It is, after all, deeply paradoxical to claim both that (1) migration has major effects on a country and (2) that any concern over those effects are somehow morally illegitimate. Pretending that all migrant inflows are wholly beneficial to everyone may make for good Virtue-signalling, but it pretty dumb as a public policy position. Just as it striking for people who tend to be obsessed with “bad ideas” to suggest that the cognitive baggage migrants bring with them doesn’t matter.

A sense of control

The third individual is John Howard, Australian PM from 1996-2007, whose government had to deal with the second wave of “boat people”.

Historically, Australia’s migrant policy has, due to Australia’s geography as an island-continent, not had to confront people coming other than by commercial travel (via ships, later also planes). While visa over-staying can be an issue, it is a not very public one and applies to people already specifically accepted for (at least temporary) entry.

There have been two significant waves of “boat people” coming by (essentially black market) transport to Australia. One was after the Vietnam War, as the victorious North Vietnamese drove the Chinese minority into the sea and others fled an oppressive (and economically-repressive) regime. The Vietnamese boat people, part of the Indochina refugee crisis, caused political friction: particularly as many folk were invested in the notion of the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese as “national liberators” and the continual exodus of desperate people was, to say the least, confronting. (The boat people were often sneered at by “progressive” folk as “economic refugees”.)

Faced with a series of boat arrivals, Australia pro-actively accepted refugees, seeking to discourage the flow of boats. Moreover, it was a local regional crisis (Vietnam is closer to Darwin than is Hobart), Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War generated some sense of obligation and Australia had previously accepted many refugees from Communist rule in Europe. Australia took in 185,700 Indochinese refugees, more than any other Western countries except Canada and the USA.

The second significant wave was of boat people from the Middle East. This was not a local regional crisis (indeed, Middle Eastern boat people had to travel long distances to specifically target Australia), was generated by a region with endemic conflict and was (since Middle Eastern boat people were overwhelmingly Muslim) inevitably tainted by jihadi violence. Precisely because Australia is a high migration country, there are real dangers to social and political cohesion in migration becoming a fraught issue.

The Howard Government decided that it would do whatever was required to retain border control, using the famous line “we will decide who will come to this country”. It is worth quoting from Howard’s 2001 campaign speech:

It is also about having an uncompromising view about the fundamental right of this country to protect its borders. It’s about this nation saying to the world we are a generous open hearted people taking more refugees on a per capita basis than any nation except Canada, we have a proud record of welcoming people from 140 different nations.

But we will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come.

Australia would remain a high migration country, but a high migration country as a deliberate national strategy. More specifically, confronted with a populist-nationalist challenge (such as the previous One Nation surge), the trick is not to steal the insurgent’s policies, still less adopt their framings (that just suggest that they have things right); the trick is to steal their issues while incorporating them in your framings. In this case, easier to do as migration was already established as a national strategy.

An open border approach is a no-say approach–no say on the part of the existing electorate, the existing citizens. And if there is an approach which more or less guaranteed to cause politics to go feral, it is make significant numbers of voters, significant numbers of citizens, feel they have no say. An open border approach also undermines the very elements which make for a successful migration policy–keep the intake diverse (no “lumps”), keep the labour/capital balance from shifting against labour. (There is also the issue of black market transport being unsafe, leading to drownings at sea.)

Avoiding triggers

The key feature is to stop the politics of migration triggering authoritarian responses within the citizenry. The very diversity of Australia’s migration policy is helpful in this, as it is less likely to develop problematic migrant “enclaves”. Given the wide range of sources of migrants, so every migrant group is a relatively small minority, there is a much broader interest in “fitting in”.

Conversely, importing large “lumps” of particular migrants can be both more confronting to the existing residents and creates more possibility of developing oppositional cultures. Thus security forces in Canada, Australia and the US, where Muslims are still small minorities, are successful at breaking up local jihadi plots, because they get cooperation from within the Muslim communities. Security forces in Europe have less success, because the significantly larger Muslim communities provide more “cover” for jihadi networks.

In considering the politics of migration in specific countries, how prone local political cultures are to triggering such authoritarian responses will vary, as will what the local triggers are. This complicates cross-national comparisons. Generally, however, it is those pushing social change who are most likely to trigger such authoritarian responses, as their policies and rhetoric act to undermine existing social equilibria. Hence, for example, the behaviour of the local Left being so important in whether, and to what degree, authoritarian political responses were triggered in the interwar period. In our times, the penchant of the Virtuous for insisting upon great respect for other cultures, but contempt for Western ones, is very unhelpful.

More specially, considering the places where migration policy has become fraught, it is clear they violate all the above-identified general principles. There is a lack of a sense for many citizens of having a say, there are identifiably large (and problematic) “lumps” of migrants and a lack of preservation of the labour/capital balance.


Conversely, Canada, which also has a large migration policy without its migration politics going feral, has a very similar approach to Australia. The Trudeau Government’s approach to Syrian refugees–women and intact families only–is very much the policy of a country which thinks through migration policy, which takes it seriously.

But a lot of folk don’t care what works, they only care that they seem Virtuous. Worse, the politics of migration going feral suits them fine–it gives them so many more citizens to feel morally superior to and a greater sense of moral urgency for their favoured moral concerns.

If any concern about the extent and content of migration intake is subject to point-and-shriek, then migration policy is likely to tend towards the stupid (as relevant factors will not be seriously considered) and migration politics to the feral: another “triumph” of Virtue over fact and function.


* Demographer Peter Turchin’s simple model includes a “cultural” factor, using the minimum wage as a proxy. The more diverse the society, the less “social solidarity” policies are likely to operate.

[Cross-posted from Thinking Out Aloud.]

Are we heading towards peak globalisation? The ages of trade, globalisation and IT

By Lorenzo

This is based on a comment I made here.

The history of (long distance) trade can be divided into 4 eras, one of which is regional and transitional:

Continental-coastal: outside local areas, trade was limited to thin networks of high value items with some (highly fluctuating) upward tendency in the extent of such networks, but no significant link between Afro-Eurasian trade systems and American trade systems.

Oceanic-global: Europeans link the globe via exploitation of routes their explorations opened up, with silver the dominant trade item and non-local trade still limited to thin (though expanding) networks of high value items.

Atlantic-transition: Huge increases in the level of shipping (including through greatly expanded canal networks) creates an Atlantic economy on the cusp of mass trade, a matter of quantity having a quality all of its own.

Globalised: From the 1820s onwards, steam (via steamships and railways) sets off an era of mass trade, which means Rogowski factor income (pdf) dynamics come to dominate the political economy of trade.

With mass trade (without which there is not globalisation worth the name), trade seriously impacts the income of general factors of production (land, labour, capital). Outside the Atlantic economy, there is no globalisation worth the name until the 1820s (pdf) because the technology did not support the required level of mass trade. According to Angus Maddison‘s calculations (pdf), in 1800, merchandise exports were about 1% of world GDP: by 1913 they were 8%.

One can tell that the Atlantic economy (particularly Britain) was on the cusp of mass trade as wheat prices converged (pdf)–wheat prices within the Atlantic economy (expressed in silver) narrowed from a range of 6.66:1 around 1400 to a range of 1.88:1 around 1750–and, in Britain particularly, free trade v protectionism starts becoming a political issue.

Before that, the political economy of trade was about fighting over the rents from thin trade networks of high value items because trade was not “mass enough” to affect general factor incomes. Though such trade was disproportionately important for state revenues. Trade was overwhelming non-competing items, because transport costs were so high, it was very unlikely traded items could compete with local production.

(As an aside, I have suggested that the change to mass trade and cheap communication matters for the history of monetary theory: in particular why the price-specie flow mechanism made sense to David Hume but rather less so later.)

Once transport technology advances enough for mass trade, then scarce factors of production want trade protection to protect their scarcity premium from foreign competition. If an economy is importing a factor of production (or its products), then that factor of production is scarce in the local economy. So, importing food implies land is scarce, importing capital implies capital is scarce, importing labour implies labour is scarce (in the local economy).

Plentiful factors of production want free trade to get access to wider markets, increasing their income (by increasing their sales and by reducing their costs through not having to pay local scarcity premiums). If an economy is exporting a factor of production (or its products) then it is plentiful in the local economy. So exporting food implies land is plentiful, exporting capital implies capital is plentiful, exporting labour implies labour is plentiful (in the local economy).

In an era of mass politics, two out of three factors of production wins (domestic) political economy fights. Hence the broad patterns of the political economy of trade in the first globalisation era from the 1820s until the Great War. Britain exported capital and labour and imported food. Capital and labour were plentiful and imposed free trade against the wishes of (locally scarce) land. Germany imported food and capital and exported labour. Capital and land were (locally) scarce and imposed protection against the wishes of (plentiful) labour.

The Anglo settler societies (Canada, US, Australia, New Zealand) exported food (and minerals) and imported capital and labour. Capital and labour were (locally) scarce and imposed protection against the wishes of (plentiful) land. Latin America had weak states, which relied on (easily imposed and collected) tariffs for revenue but also imported labour and capital, so moved to protection whenever powerful land interests could be overcome.

Very few countries exported capital in the period before 1913, and as the combination of having both plentiful land and plentiful labour is (to say the least) odd, the general tendency was towards protection among countries able to set their own trade policies. (Which European colonies, and various countries subject to European power, generally were not.)

There was retreat from, and stagnation of, globalisation in the 1914 to 1945 period, largely due to the huge shocks to the global trade system of the two World Wars and the Great Depression. There was also some interruption to the pattern of declining sea transport costs (though vastly increased uncertainty may have been a factor in that also by affecting research and investment decisions).

Over the long term, the 1914-1945 globalisation-retreat interlude turned out to be an interruption in the process of globalisation; though a major interruption, it took until the 1970s for world trade to recover to the level it would have reached if the pre 1913 trends had continued. (The latter observation is taken, as is much of the information in this post, from an excellent history of trade over the last millennium,  Power and Plenty: Trade, War and the World Economy in the Second Millennium by economic historians Ronald Findlay and Kevin O’Rourke.)

Globalisation continued to be driven by falling transport (mainly in air transport) and communication costs.* Which, along with other aspects of technology, began to have some unexpected effects on the patterns of mass trade. (Paul Krugman’s Nobel memorial lecture is an excellent summary of that.) As factors of production became more internally differentiated, this tended to favour free trade interests by breaking up pro-protection coalitions.

As the breakdown in international trade was strongly associated with the disasters of the 1914-1945 period, this generated increased public policy commitment among the developed democracies to liberalising trade as part of  a commitment to a more stable international order. (Capital-importing countries outside the developed world generally continued to tend towards protectionism.) Just as the dominant naval power of the 1815-1913 period, Britain, supported a liberal trading order, so, after 1945 did the succeeding dominant naval power of the US.

 Also, if your income is not directly affected by trade, you will tend to favour freer trade as it broadens choices and tends to lower prices. So, electorates with large public sectors and more welfare-dependent or retired folk are likely to tend to be more favourable to freer trade.

As information technology (IT) develops, and communication costs become tiny, we start getting not merely wholesaling of films and TV but retailing of films and TV as well as huge growth in computer games. Intellectual property (IP) becomes a big deal as new forms of rents from trade become available. In the words of the post by econblogger Scott Summer that inspired this post:

Because the US is the dominant producer of intellectual property, the US government (both liberal and conservative administrations) will argue for low overseas taxes on multinational earnings, weak anti-trust laws to preserve the profits of US companies with patents, copyrights and/or large network externalities, and strong intellectual property rights, to extract money from non-American consumers of stuff developed in California.

You might wonder why even liberal American politicians would defend the robber barons of California. The answer is simple; these firms produce lots of tax revenue for the US, and for California. They don’t want to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs. Nor do they want to share eggs with Europe and Asia. It doesn’t matter if our firms exploit consumers in Asia or taxpayers in Europe, as long as they share 30% of the loot with public employees in the US.

And these industries are a very big deal, particularly for the US. Computer games are a multi-billion dollar industry, apparently overtaking films for export income. It is plausible to argue that it is precisely because we have global markets, that protection of IP by states in return for taxing the income therefrom has become a feature of international politics.

On the horizon, we can see the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and 3D printing. This seems likely to make the IP issues more salient, not less; both in their use and as the two technologies may well undermine mass trade in goods and services.

Globalisation has been fundamentally driven by technology: in particular, falling transport and communication costs. Public policy certainly can affect (profoundly) how specific countries have interacted with the pressures and consequences of said falling transport and communication costs. Major breakdowns of the international political and economic order can even more so.

Nevertheless, those falling costs created pressures and expanding opportunities that public policy responded to.

If technology now starts to strongly favour localisation, then that pressure will be reversed as technology will no longer be encouraging global connections in production and distribution of goods and services. If that is so, at least in terms of mass trade in goods and services, we may be approaching peak globalisation.


* As air transport has increasingly bled off high value items (including people), this has tended to limit shifts in real sea transport rates, as technological improvement in sea transport is being applied to cheaper and cheaper (in aggregate) products.


ADDENDA. A dramatic effect of the European created Oceanic-global trade era was the Columbian Exchange; but that was, in the spreading across the globe of crops and animals, more a matter of changing local production patterns than trade as such.

One of the high value items tending towards mass trade in the Atlantic economy was the Atlantic slave trade, in itself partly a result of the population collapse in the Americas due to the importing of the Eurasian disease pool to the Americas as part of the Columbian exchange. The Atlantic slave trade manage to move across the Atlantic likely similar magnitudes of African slaves as the Saharan slave trade had across the Sahara (with likely similar death rates, particularly when the death rates from creating eunuchs are included) but in just over three centuries rather than twelve.

[Cross-posted from Thinking Out Aloud.]

The Hugo awards and the decay of Western civilisation

By Lorenzo

The Hugos, for those unaware, are (speculative fiction/science fiction/fantasy) SF awards voted on by people at Worldcon.  Along with the Nebulas, they have long been the premier awards in SF. A few years ago, some SF writers got together and decided to push back against [what they saw as] the drift of the awards from their original function–representing excellence in SF writing, editing, etc–to concerns with demographic inclusion (and ideological exclusion) as well as a drift to stories with more literary pretension but less genre content.

HugoTrophy (12)

In other words, the replacement of questions of what (the best writing, etc) with questions of who (race, gender, sexuality, etc) while diluting the original SF focus. The drifting concern to questions of who claims to be about “inclusion” but, as is normal with modern progressivist identitarian politics, said inclusion was a basis for cognitive exclusion–excluding folk whose views were taken to be, by definition, against (the correct sort of) “inclusion”.

Thus, being a Mormon, libertarian-inclined, registered Republican who used to own a gun shop was being the wrong sort of who. Writer Sarah Hoyt has blogged about the feeling of vulnerability being of conservative or libertarian views generated for up-and-coming writers within the field. (At least, outside the specific sub-genre of military SF, which is rife with writers of such views.)

This drift towards concern with writer demography and away from genre content is classic trumping of function by Virtue. In particular, the ideology, partisan-affiliation and occupation of a writer has nothing to do with the original function of the Hugos. It can only matter if other criteria are used to trump said function.

A key element of morality is precisely that it trumps, that it claims an authority greater than alternative considerations. Such authority is inherently pervasive (it can apply to anything) and easily tied to status claims (supporting a trumping authority easily also proclaims a trumping moral status).

As we homo sapiens are moralising, status-conscious coalition builders, it is very easy for morality to generate in-groups and out-groups and to accentuate the divide between them. (As moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt says, morality both binds and blinds: a nice short discussion of which is here.) The classic Scott Alexander post (essay really) I can tolerate anything except the outgroup very much applies.


The original pushback against said demographic-concern-and-literary-elevation drift was the Sad Puppies, an attempt to widen the nomination process by suggesting to Worldcon voters writers and others felt to be more in keeping with notions of SF being very much a specific genre about stories and playing with ideas in general (rather than about who and which ideas).

There was also an issue of whether a particular publishing house (Tor books) had been gaming the system. (It has topped SF awards in general, though Gollancz has a higher author/nomination to award rate.)

As an open reaction to a drift among publishing and organisation insiders, the Sad Puppies made explicitly contentious processes that had presented as apolitical and meritocratic. That immediately made the insurgents open to charges of “politicising” and “gaming” the system. Always useful rhetoric for status quo insiders against trouble-makers. Hence also claims that the Sad Puppies campaign was just about getting awards for oneself and one’s friends. That Larry Corriera, the original Sad Puppy organiser, had recused himself from nomination was just ignored or scoffed at.

The Virtue syllogism

But the Sad Puppy pushback also ran into the trumping nature of Virtue. A standard response to concerns with preserving function against claims of moral Virtue is to wield the following (invalid) syllogism:

We are doing x because of Y.
You object to us doing x.
You are against Y.

In this case:

We are attending to questions of who-category to make the Hugos more inclusive-by-demographic category as a matter of Social Justice.
You object to the changing the criteria for the Hugos in this way.
You are against inclusion and Social Justice.

It was thus “established”, as is normal when the Virtue game gets going, that all and any objection to what the Virtuous were doing was, by definition, due to malefic motivations. There being no legitimate objection to Virtue, of course. Thus there is also no legitimate objection to having Virtue trump function.


In accordance with the status-drive (we’re moral, they’re evil/stupid/ignorant) which is so crucial to Virtue coalition-building, there was an associated Narrative, a story of Good people, who seek inclusiveness, and Bad people, who oppose it (and so, should, of course, be excluded).

As supporters of the Sad Puppies constantly point out (e.g. Larry Correira here, Brad Torgersen here), people and facts that fail to confirm this Narrative, or actively undermine it, are just ignored.

As is normal when the Virtue game gets going, not only is function trumped, so are facts.

A striking feature of the Hugos controversy, is that outlets such as The Guardian, The New Republic, The Atlantic, Wired, Salon and Slate all covered it. And they all covered it in the same way: as the heroic supporters of inclusion and social justice being opposed by those against demographic diversity in SF (and social diversity more generally). There was, apparently, no legitimate concern about function, and any facts that suggested otherwise typically just never appeared in the Narrative. Which thus became a deeply dishonest Narrative. One that undermined the alleged function of mainstream media–to report the news of what happens, not Virtuous distortions of the same. (An example of covering the issue somewhat differently is provided by Real Clear Politics and, after some corrections, the UK Telegraph.)

Amusingly, Entertainment Weekly, after enthusiastically joining in the game, managed, in its correction, to allude to what was happening:

CORRECTION: After misinterpreting reports in other news publications, EW published an unfair and inaccurate depiction of the Sad Puppies voting slate, which does, in fact, include many women and writers of color. As Sad Puppies’ Brad Torgerson explained to EW, the slate includes both women and non-caucasian writers, including Rajnar Vajra, Larry Correia, Annie Bellet, Kary English, Toni Weisskopf, Ann Sowards, Megan Gray, Sheila Gilbert, Jennifer Brozek, Cedar Sanderson, and Amanda Green.
This story has been updated to more accurately reflect this. EW regrets the error.

It does repeat the pattern of using Brad Torgersen as the go-to Sad Puppy to be quoted, since his terribly Teutonic name is just made to fit the Narrative. (His African-American wife, perhaps less so, but she can easily be ignored.)


Having designated Virtue systematically trump function and facts is not a good long-term look for any society or civilisation. But the Virtue game has become very socially pervasive.

Hence the importance of not allowing any successful push-backs. Hence the mainstream media (1) paying attention to the Hugo fuss and (2) pushing the Virtuous Narrative so relentlessly. Thereby, of course, demonstrating just how pervasive Virtuous trumping of facts and function has become.

The identity dynamic

The Sad Puppies rapidly became not the only insurgent players. The Virtuous drift was a manifestation of the identitarian progressivism that has replaced the modernist Left: the politics of who replacing the politics of what.

Fundamental to identitarian progressivism is not merely the pushing of positive Identities but also negative ones. A story of good Who’s who are oppressed by bad Who’s. Those bad Who’s being, of course, Bad White People, unrepentant possessors of White Privilege. (Who are very, very distinct from Good White People–those being the folk who spend so much time explaining how oppressed Good Who’s are by Bad White People.)

Bad White People thereby become the default social scapegoats. Thomas Sowell‘s nomination for the stupidest idea in politics:

the assumption that people would be evenly or randomly distributed in incomes, institutions, occupations or awards, in the absence of somebody doing somebody wrong.

is a very useful idea for identitarian progressivism and its Virtue game. [Including for the bureaucratised versions thereof.]


There is no good form of identity politics. But there is an inevitable dynamic to identity politics: an identity under continuing attack will begin to organise in sheer self-defence (or, at least be susceptible to political entrepreneurs who claim to speak for them). For, if being queer, coloured, female, etc are good identities, then it follows that being a heterosexual white male is a bad (i.e. morally stained aka “privileged”) identity.

One can escape from said moral stain by proclaiming very loudly how committed to Virtue (aka Social Justice) one is, thereby establishing oneself as a Good White. In the case of the Hugos, writers such as George R R Martin (e.g. here and here) and John Scalzi have perfected this. In Scalzi’s case, he is particularly keen on pushing that there is no legitimate complaint about or against Virtue (e.g. here).

Given that pushing morally-positive identities must involve creating morally-negative identities (which is why there is no good form of identity politics), the rise of progressivist identitarian politics and its constructs of bad/stained identities has, inevitably, seen the rise of antagonistic identitarian politics (aka the Alt-right).


This is very convenient to progressivist identitarian politics, because the Alt-right give someone for the Good Whites to point to and say See! See! Bad Whites! (John Scalzi plays this game here.)

The notion that only “good people” will play identity politics was always deeply stupid. But it is a convenient stupidity for the Good White game. Particularly as it is simplicity itself to push the See, Bad Whites! narrative–just completely ignore any role for progressivist identitarian politics in creating this, completely predictable, reaction.

… in wider society

As an aside, movement conservatism in the US has a decades-long history of purging right-identitarians–nicely documented in an excellent work of history and analysis, Right Wing Critics of American Conservatism by political scientist George Hawley: useful reviews of the book by the excluded are herehere and here.

The rise of progressivist identitarian politics has, however, destabilised movement conservatism’s suppression of identitarian politics on the right as the Alt-right’s fundamental claim (the interests, culture, standing, prospects and interests of white people are under attack) is now true for non-progressivist white folk, particularly the white working class, given their role as default social scapegoats. (Hence the success of The Donald.)

The US is now facing the natural dynamic of identity politics–the rise of awful candidates who folk feel compelled to vote for due to tribal self-defence. Given that Hillary is the doyen of progressivist identity politics, and the Greens’ Jill Stein is a case of the same game even more so, the only US Presidential candidate which represents any revolt against the toxic dynamics of identity politics is the Libertarian, Gary Johnson: the only candidate for (in the nice phrasing of Frederik deBoer and others) the politics of what rather than the politics of who.

Going Rabid

In the case of the Hugos, the anti-progressive identitarians are the Rabid Puppies, pushed by prominent Alt-right blogger, SF writer and publisher, Vox Day. (His politics are really not mine, but his SJWs Always Lie: Taking Down the Thought Police is a necessary read to understand the methodological dynamics of Virtue coalition politics in the wider culture.)


Vox Day’s clash with Sad Puppy supporter Sarah Hoyt provides an excellent example of how dishonest the Virtuous Narrative about the Sad Puppies is. Sarah Hoyt–woman, Portuguese immigrant–is a poster child for how objecting to changing the function of the Hugos is not about opposing diversity. Hence the mainstream media journalists “reporting” (actually selling Narrative fiction as news) have comprehensively ignored her.

Sarah Hoyt manifests the US as open society and sees herself as doing so. To the Alt-right, this is the fiction of the US as propositional nation. But the Rabid Puppy surge also shows how hard it is for non-identitarian politics to maintain itself once the identitarian dynamics of tribalism and counter-tribalism gets going.

Virtue trumping fact and function. The toxic dynamics of identity politics. The Hugos are a much bigger story than they appear because they are a revealing microcosm of destructive processes in our civilisation.


[Cross-posted from Thinking Out Aloud.]

Defending openness with cognitive closure

By Lorenzo

The Economist recently had a piece claiming that the left-right divide had been overtaken by the open-closed divide. It had this to say on the Brexit vote:

So far, Britain’s decision to leave the European Union has been the anti-globalists’ biggest prize: the vote in June to abandon the world’s most successful free-trade club was won by cynically pandering to voters’ insular instincts, splitting mainstream parties down the middle.

Really? There were no legitimate concerns behind the Brexit vote?

Two-thirds of British voters voted for the EEC (i.e. the European Communities aka Common Market) in 1975, yet a 52-48% majority voted against the EU in 2016. Had British voters suddenly become more stupid or gullible in the intervening 41 years? Or had circumstances changed? Had what they were being sold changed?

No, yes and yes.

A different Europe

Immigration has accelerated, and its implications have changed. The approved model has gone from assimilation (newcomers adapt to residents) to multiculturalism (residents adapt to newcomers) along with a Muslim religious revival which accentuates visible differences in clothing (pdf) and associates it with violence. (An immigration policy which kills citizens is a problematic immigration policy: particularly when it does so into the second generation.)

The provincial working class lost political defenders as the modernist left became postmodern progressivism. Importing new voters reduces the provincial working class’s political significance further while increasing pressure on government services and redistributing the benefits of economic growth away from the indigenous working class.

The Economist tells us that Brexit was a vote against:

the world’s most successful free-trade club …

The EEC was the most successful free trade area, the EU is very much not–not a successful free trade area (thanks to the Euro, economic growth has flatlined in much of the EU) as well as not just a free trade area but something which aspires to far more. Over 40 years of experience had greatly reduced voter support for the EU-that-is compared to the EEC-that-was.

Nor did it help that the UK did not join the Euro. First, the Euro is a huge statement of future intent. Secondly, it was a dramatic demonstration of EU failure, of how not joining in the Ever Greater Union roller-coaster could be a very good idea. Just as it did not help that the UK had not opted to join the Schengen agreement, for essentially the same reasons.

Treating opposition to the actually-existing-EU as simply malefic opposition to “openness” is being remarkably obtuse. One does not defend an open society with such cognitive closure.

There is evidence that the EU continues to (on balance) continues to increase economic freedom. Faced, however, with a choice between increased accountability and increased economic freedom, I will pick increased accountability every time: it is so much the better long term bet. Indeed, it precisely the way that EU processes profoundly muddied who was responsible for what which helps explain the popular antipathy.

Undermining social bargaining

The Economist cites the EU as an example of international integration. In a phrase, institutionalised globalisation.

Economist Kevin O’Rourke (whose work with Jeffrey Williamson is necessary reading to understand the nature of globalisation) has pointed out that globalisation produces losers, that the Brexit backlash “has been a long time coming“. His immediate conclusion is that the solution to more immigration is more government services, citing economist Dani Rodrik‘s claim that markets and states are complements.

This is to misread the evidence he is citing about European states in the C19th and early C20th. Yes, more highly taxed states were more open, but this was more consequence than cause. They were able to sustain the (relatively) high tax/high openness balance by having inclusive and effective social bargaining. Which is precisely what the pomo progressivist embrace of language taboos, the rhetoric of denunciation (racist! sexist! xenophobic! etc), identity politics, judicial activism (specifically, social change by judicial decision) and internationalisation all seriously undermine.

In particular, much of the function of contemporary immigrant politics [around immigration] is precisely to strip status and positive attention from the resident (white) working class, which leads to precisely the politics of neglect O’Rourke is complaining about.

Why on earth would one think that, given the dynamics of contemporary politics, expanded government action would be to the benefit of the backlash voters? Ask the residents of Rotherham how much the Progressivist Ascendancy state is not on their side.

The historical cases that O’Rourke is citing were also not immigrant states; if anything, they were emigrant states. His suggestion that supporters of openness, in effect, tell citizens that they should pay higher taxes (either now, or in the future through greater public debt) to expand services to incorporate extra migrants just pushes the political scarcity problems to the next level.

Moreover, the more diverse the incoming migrants, the more difficult inclusive social bargaining becomes, due to increased diversity in preferences and expectations and increased difficulties in information flows. Conversely, mass emigration tends to select for more social conformity among the remaining population, as those who differ are more likely emigrate, thereby making inclusive social bargaining easier among the citizens who stay.

It is so much easier to have a high services/high openness social bargaining in overwhelmingly monocultural societies (Scandinavia) or explicitly specific-pillar societies (Netherlands) or in highly decentralised ones (Switzerland). There is a reason why the much more diverse Anglo societies tended to have lower levels of tax/openness trade-offs and why the (over-centralised) United Kingdom had and has perennial Celtic fringe problems.

It is all very well to talk of the “open v closed” divide, but not if one is going to treat concerns about openness as stupid/malefic and integration projects as simply good things. Seriously damaged processes of social bargaining are the issue to zero in on, not alleged voter stupidity or malice, nor treating increased government services as any sort of likely panacea.


[Cross-posted from Thinking Out Aloud.]