The depths of Palestinian dysfunction

By Lorenzo

We are about three years away from the centenary of the (third) Palestine Arab Conference in December 1920 which demanded an end to Jewish migration into Palestine and just under three years from the centenary of the April 1920 Nebi Musa riots, the first fatal clash between Jews and Arabs in Palestine on the matter of Jewish migration and Zionism. (Though the March 1920 Battle of Tel Hai might also be regarded as the first clash.)

We are about four years away from the centenary of the appointment of Amin al-Husseini as Mufti (later Grand Mufti) of Jerusalem whose policy of total rejection of any negotiation with Jews, any acceptance of Jewish migration, or even the legitimacy of Jewish residence in Palestine, set the basis for Palestinian politics until the Oslo Accords (which, it turned out, involved negotiations with Israel but not any substantive movement on the other rejections).

Almost 100 years later, the politics of Amin al-Husseini are almost entirely replicated in the politics of Hamas. An almost century which saw the almost three decades before the establishment of Israel, the two decades of Israel existing up to the 1967 war, the decades of the Israeli occupation of Gaza (until 2005) and the West Bank (with partial Israeli withdrawal in 1994). Yet Palestinian politics based explicitly on Islam is back where it started from. This does not suggest that Israeli policy and actions has much purchase on the underlying patterns of Palestinian politics.

The stream of Palestinian action represented by Fatah is different in aspects of its political rhetoric, as it has a history of using much more secular rhetoric based on Arab nationalism with elements of revolutionary socialism. But the difference is merely in the rhetoric, not the underlying politics. Even there, Amin al-Husseini also talked in pan-Arab terms, being involved in such politics before he took up the Palestinian cause. (Or, more accurately, the anti-Zionist cause, as the Palestinian identity has been created in the course of opposition to Zionism.) Claims that the public statements of Fatah aimed at Western audiences show some sort of acceptance of Israel, and any substantial Jewish presence in Israel-Palestine, are belied by what is taught in Palestinian schools and pushed in Palestinian media.

The Oslo disaster

Moreover, as Efraim Karsh points out, the Oslo Accords have been a disaster for both Israel and Palestinians. The level of violence since the Accords has been much higher than during the Israeli occupation of 1967-1993, the standard of living of Palestinians has become much lower than it was under the Israeli occupation, and Palestinians suffer under much more corrupt administration than they did under Israeli occupation. As both Fatah and Hamas have stopped having elections, while the Israelis permitted local elections, even democracy was better under Israeli occupation. Meanwhile, since the Accords, Israel has had more killing of its civilians, its security situation has worsened and its politics has been destabilised.

Indeed, with the sole exception of the peace treaty with Egyptevery time Israel has withdrawn from territory (Southern Lebanon, Gaza, West Bank) its civilians have been attacked from that territory. Why would any more territorial withdrawals remotely seem like a good idea? Not to most Israelis any more, according to opinion polls.

The only even vaguely plausible basis for that being a good idea, would be if it brought peace. But that requires Palestinian acceptance of that such a peace, and there is no evidence whatever for that being a remotely plausible outcome. Indeed, apart from various statements aimed at Western opinion, the evidence is clearly against it. Not only the experience up to this time, but also the patterns of Palestinian opinion and the wider history of the Islamic Middle East.

Palestinian opinion

Regarding said opinion, a series of statistically reliable opinion polls of Palestinian opinion are available, though mostly in Arabic. Fortunately, political scientist Daniel Polisar has pored over those opinion poll results, distilling the results into two online essays, here and here.

So, what do Palestinians think the aims of Israel are?

On over two dozen occasions since 2009, PSR fieldworkers asked West Bank and Gaza residents, “What do you think are the aspirations of Israel for the long run?” With clock-like consistency, the options espoused by most of the parties represented in the Israeli Knesset and by consistent majorities of Israelis—namely, that Israel is seeking “withdrawal from all [or part] of the territories it occupied in 1967”—are chosen least often. More popular is the belief, held by one-fifth of Palestinians, that Israel’s goal is “Annexation of the West Bank while denying political rights of Palestinian citizens.” But the view commanding an absolute majority in all 25 polls, at an average of 59 percent, is that Israel’s aspirations are “Extending the borders of the state of Israel to cover all the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea and expelling its Arab citizens.”

Assuming one takes respondents at their word, three of every five Palestinians living next door to Israel believe its aspirations are to reconquer the Gaza Strip and the Arab-populated areas of the West Bank, annex them, and expel the more than four million Arab residents currently living there plus the 1.7 million Arab citizens of Israel. And this, despite the fact that in the past quarter-century, not a single Israeli Knesset member, respected public figure, or major media personality has advocated such a view in public or is reliably claimed to have expressed it in private.

What is their opinion of Jews?

In 2009, the Pew Research Center asked publics in two dozen countries how they viewed Muslims, Christians, and Jews. Regarding Jews, 94 percent of Palestinians reported a “very unfavorable” opinion. (Only 23 percent reported a very unfavorable opinion of Christians.) In this respect, Palestinian views are par for the course in the Arab world: between 92 and 95 percent of Lebanese, Egyptians, and Jordanians also expressed very unfavorable opinions of Jews. Two years later, Pew repeated the questions and achieved comparable results. In the latter survey, Pew also asked whether some religions were more prone than others to violence. More than half of Palestinians averred that this is the case, and of these, 88 percent fingered Judaism as the most violent. (The other choices were Islam, Christianity, and Hinduism.)

Let us remember what 1300 years of Islamic doctrine and practice held–that it was a cosmic insult, literally against God, to treat Jews as the political equals of believers. This outlook was based profoundly on Islam’s deep civilisational principle of Muslim supremacy, as embedded in law and in cultural practice; something deemed to be ordained by God. Such supremacy is explicitly the doctrine of Hamas.

The persistent refusal to grapple with the reality that Islam is a different civilisation, with profoundly different basic ideas and cultural and institutional legacy, is at the heart of much Western delusion about Middle Eastern politics and society in general and the Israel-Palestine dispute in particular. An essay, by a former Chief Justice of Saudi Arabia on jihad, apparently written between 1974 and 1981, on the nature and significance of jihad within Islamic law (pdf) provides a case in point. Nothing even remotely like it would be produced by any Western former chief justice.

(As an aside, that so many Western commentators still do not understand that Islamic martyrdom–killing non-believers in pursuit of Sharia rule–is both the best, in the sense of highest status, the only guaranteed path to Paradise, and wipes away all sins and transgressions, is a pointed and repetitive example of such failure to inform oneself. Such a killer’s previous impious behaviour does not in any way undermine the Islamic nature of such acts; on the contrary, it is precisely the putative ability of martyrdom to put all such past transgressions to naught which makes it attractive to “bad” Muslims: and pointing to such past transgressions as some evidence of it not being an “Islamic” act just parades one’s own wilful ignorance.)

Palestinian politics

Muslim supremacy was also the outlook explicitly adopted, and sought to be acted upon, by the founder of Palestinian political movement, Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem when he began Palestinian rejectionism in 1921, that:

demands that Palestinians (and beyond them, Arabs and Muslims) repudiate every aspect of Zionism: deny Jewish ties to the land of Israel, fight Jewish ownership of that land, refuse to recognize Jewish political power, refuse to trade with Zionists, murder Zionists where possible, and ally with any foreign power, including Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, to eradicate Zionism.

Hamas just represents a return to the original ideas motivating Palestinian politics. Hardly surprising, as they come from the same original sources and core ideas.

The only possible path to peace under the politics of the Grand Mufti and of Hamas is the destruction of any element of Jewish organised politics and the Jews accepting powerless subordination to believers. If that is the dominant Palestinian path to peace, then there is no path to peace available to Israel, no concession or cunning policy trick which will allow peace, on any terms remotely likely to be acceptable to Israelis.

So, what about “secular” Palestinian opinion, as represented by Fatah and the PLO? It and its supporters are products of the same cultural nexus, the same civilisation. It may have adopted a rhetorical Marxism–so, instead of Israel being destroyed because it is Jewish, Israel needed to be destroyed because it was it’s a colonial imperialist project–but the declared aim didn’t change. Hardly surprising given that it and its supporters are products of the same culture and civilisation and Fatah and the PLO never repudiated the Grand Mufti.

Thus, organised Palestinian politics have swung from the Jews should be destroyed because they’re being outrageously uppity (1921-48), to Israel should be destroyed because it’s Jewish, to Israel should be destroyed be it’s a colonial imperialist project, and back to Israel should be destroyed because it’s Jewish.

The notion that the experience of defeat, humiliation and partial dispossession has somehow convinced Palestinians to embrace an entirely foreign view of Jews as their moral and political equals, in contradiction to 13 centuries of Islamic doctrine and practice, is not something that has manifested in any way in organised Palestinian politics. On the contrary, preaching, rhetoric, schooling and public culture within Palestinian Territories all point to the opposite–that they have systematically “doubled down” on the notion that the entire experience is a cosmic insult to be rectified at some future time when Jews will again be restored to their proper status as the powerless subordinates of their cosmic betters. As expatriate Iranian journalist Amir Taheri points out, this “nexus” of beliefs is very powerful and deeply resistant to change:

As far as I know, one question has yet to be asked of Palestinians:

Which would you prefer: (1) to see a Palestinian state on the map? (2) to see Israel wiped off the map?

To judge by non-scientific, anecdotal evidence, most Palestinians want both. And this underscores the reality that no progress will be possible until and unless “Palestine” becomes a pragmatic political project rather than a religious-ideological cause célèbre. Until that day dawns, in poll after poll, the Palestinian nexus will continue to provide answers of the type that Daniel Polisar has analyzed with great talent and acumen.

But attending to such facts requires treating Islam as really being a different civilisation with different underlying ideas, history and cultural legacies. Palestinians are not WEIRD (Western Educated Industrialised Rich Democratic), not remotely. But treating them, by default, as if they are by not seriously examining Palestinian politics, opinion, schooling, preaching, media (or treating it as just blank-slate reaction to what Israelis do) is both congenial and reassuring to many Westerners.

So, organised Palestinian politics is a bust in permitting a path to peace–which is why it has never been achieved, despite the fact that potential agreements have always been available. Available, that is, if one was willing to treat Jews as political equals; and that insult of equality was and remains a step way too far.

Palestinian opinion (2)

If organised Palestinian politics is a bust, perhaps there is some good news within Palestinian public opinion?

Not so much. Consider questions about who is to blame for various problems plaguing Palestinians:

Over the years, there were also many questions posed about problems for which Israel wasn’t listed as a possible culprit; on these, respondents assigned blame to their government, to leading figures and parties, or to society as a whole. But when Israel was offered as an option, both where its culpability could plausibly be claimed and where doing so was farfetched in the extreme, more Palestinians passed responsibility to Israel than opted for any other answer. Whatever else this might say, it indicates a tendency to ascribe to Israel greater power than it actually wields—along with intentions so diabolical as to lead it to act in ways detrimental to the Jewish state’s own interests, so long as this will cause suffering to Palestinians.

How could one possibly contemplate final peace with a state so malign? (Or a frame of mind which has failed to notice that they were actually better off under direct Israeli rule: but the cosmic insult of equality is too strong.)

Particularly as Palestinian opinion overwhelmingly denies Jews have any links to the land of Israel. Moreover:

This denial of Jewish roots and rights might help explain why Palestinians are skeptical that Israel, not yet three-quarters of a century old, will continue to exist as a Jewish state, or perhaps at all, in another generation. In 2011, the Greenberg poll asked Palestinians to choose which statement is more accurate: “I am certain Israel will exist 25 years from now as a Jewish state with a Jewish majority” or “I am not so certain . . . .” Over 60 percent doubted Israel would continue to exist as a Jewish state. In the 2015 Washington Institute poll, a similar question was asked, with different wording and a lengthened time horizon. In response, only a quarter of Palestinians believed Israel would continue to exist as a Jewish state “in another 30 or 40 years.” A comparable number thought it would exist as a bi-national state of Jews and Palestinians, while close to half said Israel would no longer exist either “because Arab or Muslim resistance will destroy it” or “because it will collapse from internal contradictions.”

In sum, when the Palestinians look at Israel, they see a country of enormous power and influence that has done great harm to them, that seeks to displace them entirely from historical Palestine, and whose people are deficient as individuals and also lacking any collective rights to the land in general or to Jerusalem in particular.

Why make peace (in contradiction of fundamental religious and cultural principles) with a malign state which, if one hangs onto one’s hate for long enough, will just go away? Faced with this systematic rejection, it is hardly surprising that endless negotiations never end up with anything other than temporary truce agreements and provisional arrangements. For reasons which are not amenable to Israeli policy levers.

It is also hardly surprising that Palestinian opinion strongly supports violence against Israel and Jews, and has a completely one-sided notion of what constitutes terrorism:

When asked hypothetically if Israel’s use of chemical or biological weapons against Palestinians would constitute terror, 93 percent said yes, but when the identical question was posed regarding the use of such weapons of mass destruction by Palestinians against Israelis, only 25 percent responded affirmatively.

Indeed, Palestinians are much more positive towards Muslim terrorism in general than other Arabs:

Also in the same survey, Palestinians were asked whether “The destruction of the Twin Towers in New York City by people suspected to be members of Bin Laden’s organization” was terrorism. Only 41 percent were willing to say yes; 53 percent rejected the term. The same pattern crops up in surveys conducted between 2006 and 2009 by the Arab Barometer project, in which Palestinians consistently distinguished themselves from other Arabs in rejecting the term terrorism for such jihadist operations as the “Madrid train explosions” (March 2004, 191 killed) and the “London underground explosions” (July 2005, 52 dead). In both cases, a majority of Palestinians averred these were not acts of terror, whereas comparable figures in the other Arab publics ranged from 17 percent down to 2 percent. …

Though the level of support varied widely among countries and across time, one constant is that the Palestinians were always the leaders in seeing suicide bombings and similar attacks as justified. On average, 59 percent saw them as being justified often or sometimes; no other Arab or Muslim public came close.

Violence against Israel is seen as effective:

Similarly, Israeli decisions to pull out of previously held territory have been seen by Palestinians as a consequence of their “armed resistance” and not as a function of Israeli strategic interests, international pressure, or other factors. This was pointedly true regarding the decision by the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to leave the Gaza Strip. When asked by PSR in September 2005, a month after the pullout, what was “the single most important factor” in the Israeli decision, 57 percent chose “attacks by Palestinian resistance.” Time and again in polls before and after the pullout, three-quarters on average would tell PSR they saw “Sharon’s plan to evacuate the Israeli settlements from Gaza as a victory for the Palestinian armed resistance against Israel.” …

West Bank and Gaza residents were asked: “Do you think that when Palestinians use violence that injures and kills Israeli civilians this makes the Israelis more willing or less willing to make compromises?” Sixty-four percent opted for “more willing,”and only 17 percent for “less willing.”

Why make peace with a malign state against basic religious and cultural principles when violence continues to work? More to the point, if you are Israel, how do you negotiate any peace if every Israeli concession is seen as a sign of weakness, a presaging of Israel’s eventual collapse and destruction? (Remember the history of Israeli withdrawals.)

Nor is it surprising that perpetrators of violence are valorised:

In the poll, a substantial majority, 61 percent, thought it morally “right” to “nam[e] streets after Palestinian suicide bombers like Dalal al-Maghrabi who killed Israeli civilians within Israel.”

There is support, according to various opinion polls, among Palestinians for various potential package deals and compromises, as David Pollock explains here. The bad news is that they fall into the temporary truce agreements and provisional arrangements category (which have always been sanctioned by Islamic doctrine), being allied to a strong belief that Israel will collapse or be destroyed.

The refusal of the Palestinian leadership to agree to recognise Israel as a Jewish state or to give up the right of return makes complete sense in this context.

Paid to be dysfunctional

As Israeli journalist Haviv Rettig Gur points out, the view of Palestinians as a powerless put-upon people also serves Palestinian interests, both in avoiding the burdens of responsibility and in selling a “blame Israel’ narrative to everyone else. (Which Western progressivists are all too willing to buy.)

The West, via UNWRA (which has an annual budget of over a US$1bn), pays billions of dollars and euros for the Palestinians to remain dysfunctional. The trick is done by a definition of refugee that only applies to Palestinians–to be a Palestinian “refugee” one has to have been resident for two years up to 1948 in the territories became Israel, or be a descendant of same. Palestinians are thus the world’s only hereditary refugees. As hereditary refugees, they receive said billions in euros and dollars from the West. If the same definition of refugee as applies to everyone else was applied to Palestinians, not only would stop feeding into Palestinian view of unique victimhood, it would also force them to start collectively working for a living–which would make cooperation with Israel much more attractive.

If the US and the EU were serious about promoting Israel-Palestinian peace, they would do that immediately, at least in their own policy (getting the UN General Assembly to agree may be more difficult). If commentators on Israel-Palestinian peace were serious, they would advocate that. The seriousness of such efforts and commentary can be judged by whether they are even remotely aware of the issue, and the deeply perverse incentives this funding creates (which looms a great deal larger in Palestinian economies than does US aid to Israel in the Israeli economy).

That, after provoking conflict with Israel, Hamas received billions in pledges of rebuilding money is another case of Palestinians being paid to be dysfunctional, to be shielded from the consequences of their actions and attitudes.

The West (and particularly Europe) pays the Palestinians to have no incentive to adjust their attitudes, or make peace, and then wonders why Israel is resistant to their perspectives.

Palestinian popular rejectionism

As Daniel Polisar points out in his second online essay, while there has sometimes been Palestinian majority polling support for a two-state solution, it presumes the content of such an agreement to be such as to well beyond what any Israeli Government is likely to agree to. Support for a binational state is much lower. Moreover, even if not explicitly offered the option, a significant (and rising) minority opts for an Islamic/Palestinian state on the entire territory of Israel-Palestine as a write-in response. When explicitly offered the option, support is much higher (and far higher than the equivalent view among Israelis: but Palestinian opinion has always been more extreme, and Palestinian politics more violent, than Israeli opinion and politics), with an Palestinian state “from the river to the sea” being much the preferred option again and again. Unsurprisingly, a 2015 opinion poll found that:

A tiny minority, 12 percent, said “Both Jews and Palestinians have rights to the land.” An overwhelming majority, including 81 percent of West Bankers and 88 percent of Gazans, answered unequivocally that “This is all Palestinian land and Jews have no rights to it.”

So, even when we seem to be in the realm of compromise, the nexus fights back. This us-or-them mentality is nicely expressed by opinion poll results:

[In 2003] Only 17 percent of Palestinians believed Israel’s existence was compatible with the realization of their rights and needs, while 80 percent believed it incompatible. The identical question was asked in 2007, with similar results: 77 percent of Palestinians believed they could not achieve their national rights or meet their needs as long as Israel existed.

Opposition to Israel’s right to exist is overwhelming, and most so among young Palestinians, the product of the Palestinian education systems:

Indeed, when JMCC asked Palestinians in 1995, “Do you think Israel has the right to exist?,” 65 percent said no. In February 2007, Near East Consulting (NEC), a Ramallah-based survey research firm that differs from its peers in using telephone surveys rather than face-to-face interviews, asked the same question and reported that 75 percent of respondents answered in the negative. NEC asked the question again in May of that year and again the same percentage disagreed. Tellingly, the percentage of naysayers was highest among the young, reaching 92 percent among Palestinians between ages eighteen and twenty-four.

Israeli scepticism about any putative peace process appears well grounded (as, for that matter, does scepticism regarding the establishment of a Palestinian state). Conversely, Western commentary which presumes some changes in Israeli policy would allow peace to be achieved appears deeply delusional. Israel can decide what it wants all it likes; short of simply expelling all the Palestinians from their borders, it is not in Israel’s power to achieve any stable arrangement, merely varying degrees of tolerable ones. Particularly as the overwhelmingly preferred Palestinian outcome remains to expel all the Jews.

Historical roots

We need to be quite clear that Palestinian attitudes do not spring from some reaction to Zionism but from much deeper sources. Under Western pressure, the Ottoman Empire in the later C19th began to move to equal legal rights and standing for Muslims and non-Muslims. The result were periodic “equal rights” massacres (such as Aleppo in 1850 and in Damascus in 1860), where, although often in part sparked by other factors, believers would also become homicidally enraged over the loss of (superior) status that equality with non-Muslims entailed.

Armenian dead, Erzurum, 1895.

This was a pattern the Ottoman state itself eventually embraced, as Muslims became an increasing majority within the shrinking Empire, with the Hamidian massacres of the 1890s, the Adana massacre of 1909 and the Armenian, Greek-Pontic and Assyrian genocides of the Great War. The pattern continued in Arab states in the interwar period, with various massacres of non-Muslim groups, such as the Simele massacre of 1933.

The massacres of Jews in Mandatory Palestine did not come out of nowhere. The Jews did show a willingness to kill back. One sometimes get utterly misleading claims that Palestinian terrorism represents “asymmetric warfare”. That is nonsense on stilts–killing Jews was engaged in decades before Israel was born, when Muslims were a majority in Mandatory Palestine. Indeed, as noted above, we are approaching the centenary of the tactic in Israel-Palestine.

The agitation against Zionism did represent a shift in the pattern of massacre elsewhere in the Muslim Middle East–Jews became increasing targets, when Christians had mainly been the victims up to then, culminating in the Farhud pogrom in Baghdad. So, when antipathy to the actions of Christian Powers was the issue, local Christians were massacred. Once Zionism came along, more local Jews were massacred–which was actually a gain, in a sense, as Jewish populations were smaller and more urbanised, so such massacres involved less actual killings.

Palestinian politics helped build Israel

In a way, Israel owes the Grand Mufti a debt: his homicidal enmity, and his ability to inspire and motivate support, was so clear that any Jews in Mandatory Palestine who had doubted the need for a Jewish state did so no longer. But his benefits to Israel extended beyond that. By absolutely confirming what their own local experience showed them, he and his movement greatly encouraged Jews from all over the Middle East to flee to the new country of Israel. Indeed, once Israel was established, and the prevailing Arab attitude to Jews being effective political actors was continually demonstrated, Middle Eastern Jews embraced Zionism much more thoroughly than European Jews did, with about two-thirds of them fleeing to Israel (the rest mainly fled to France and the US, leaving behind tiny remnants of communities with a longer history in the region than Islam) and did so without any local horror remotely on the scale of the Holocaust. (Though the various Ottoman genocides were powerful indicators in their own right, along with the responses to the creation of Israel.)

Of course, seeing Zionism as including any sort of response to Arab actions rather gets in the way of various progressivist pieties.

The modernising threat

Decades prior to the establishment of Israel, the Mufti, and the movement he led, responded to the new arrivals with a level of virulent contempt and violence wildly in excess of anything represented by current European populist nationalists towards Muslim migrants into Europe. And Mandatory Palestine in the 1920s was not remotely an over-populated place. The newcomers brought capital, labour, skills which resulted in an expanding economy that then drew people in from the rest of the Middle East–an unknown proportion of contemporary Palestinians only have any connection to Palestine because the Jews moved in.

Kibbutz, 1941.

But the newcomers also brought in modernisation; including beliefs about democracy and equal rights, about expanded possibilities for women. They were an affront to the traditionalist landlord class, with its debt bondage, and the associated clerical establishment, at so many levels. Deeply embedded notions of Muslim supremacy were a convenient lever to try and keep the modern world out–and fear and hatred of modernity is something Jew-hatred has had a strong association with over the last two centuries. Trying to fit some anti-colonialist story over the top of Palestinian, Arab and Muslim Jew-hatred obscures way more than it reveals.

Moreover, as the history of equal rights massacres in the Ottoman Empire, and the Hamidian massacres and the Armenian, Pontic-Greek and Assyrian genocides, the various minority massacres of the interwar years, including the Farhud, the Lebanese Civil War, the Algerian Civil War, the contemporary history of Iraq, Syria and Libya all attest, abandoning the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) would be a suicidally stupid choice on the part of Israelis. Yet the elimination of the IDF is clearly a core Palestinian aim.

The case of Lebanon, originally a somewhat Christian-dominated state which failed to provoke remotely the same enmity as Israel, provides a revealing contrast: though set up as a multi-communal or confessional state with the Christian community in first position, Lebanon was not explicitly a Christian state, it did not involve non-Muslims moving into Muslim lands (in contradiction of the “proper” direction of history), the Christians were not bringing modernity with them and it all ended in civil war anyway, with peace only being achieved on the basis of a state weak enough not to be threatening but also too weak to perform basic functions.

Lebanon was also set up during the heyday of Arab nationalism, when Arab Christians in particular were at the forefront of an ideology which pushed the common status of Muslims and Christian Arabs as Arabs, hence Lebanon’s role as a founder-member of the Arab League. As Arab nationalism tied itself to confrontation with Israel (which failed) and very strongly state-centred economic policies (which also largely failed) it has lost most of its popular and institutional base, while Arab Christians have found that agreeing with Muslim Arabs to exclude the Jews from Arab identity has, in the longer term, just meant they became next on the hit list, hence the steady emigration of Christians from Arab lands.

Population exchanges, 1920s.

The role of blaming Israel as scapegoat had wide appeal in the Arab Middle East. Especially as, that a bunch of refugee Jews built a prosperous democracy not only showed up Arab failures, it is a cosmic insult. Hence the continuing refusal of Arab to accept “the Zionist entity” and the efforts of Arab regimes to divert popular attention and anger to the Zionists and the Jews (though that has proved a fading game). Hence also leaving the Palestinians as stateless sticks to beat Israel with.

The great success of Israel of taking in so many refugees and building a successful society, democracy and state has, ironically, obscured both the flight of Jews from Muslim countries and that so many Israeli Jews are of Middle Eastern, not European, origin. But is has also obscured that the Palestinians are the only case of people in a C20th population exchange who were not taken in and absorbed by their ethno-religious confreres. Any claim that it is Palestinian dispossession which drives Arab attitudes to Israel is disproved by the treatment of Palestinians by Arab countries. It is easier for a Palestinian to become a citizen of Western settler societies Canada, USA and Australia than of most Arab countries. (Kuwait, for example, expelled its Palestinian residents without any blowback.)

Europe in the late 1940s; mostly not voluntary moves (particularly the Germans).

There is a great deal to Ruth R. Wisse’s point that Zionism is unexceptional, it is anti-Zionism which is exceptional. Indeed, anti-Zionism is pervaded by exceptionalism–the Palestinians as permanent and hereditary refugees, as stateless sticks to beat Israel is rather than being accepted as citizens of Arab states, to be paid to be dysfunctional, as agentless victims who have no responsibility for the failure to achieve piece, as morally counting only when harmed by Israel.

Whatever the merit of separating anti-Zionism from anti-Semitism in the West, it has always been a distinction without a difference in the Arab world–which was anti-Zionist because it was pervaded with Jew-hatred. While European anti-Semitic tropes have found ready acceptance in the Arab world–most obviously, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion (whose first Arab translation was by an Arab Christian in the 1920s)–this was a Jew-hatred founded in Muslim supremacism: anything which implied that Jews had equal moral and political standing with believers was a cosmic insult. Which the existence of Israel most emphatically did entail, but so did implying Jews had any right to live in Israel.
The exceptionalism goes all the way back to end of the Israeli War for Independence, as Einat Wilf reminds us:

In the negotiations following the war, the Arab negotiation teams not only refused to meet with representatives of the State of Israel, but took great pains to emphasise that the armistice lines separating the newly independent State from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank were not to be borders. Borders implied permanence. These were cease-fire lines only, because the war was not over. The message was clear: the Jewish people might have declared independence in the State of Israel, but sooner or later there would be another war that would erase that humiliating eyesore from the Arab region.

It is all about not accepting the existence of Israel as anything other than a temporary, and cosmically perverse, state of affairs. Cosmically perverse because the fundamental objection remains the same that it always has been–treating Jews as politically equal to Muslims and Arabs.

The main driver of Muslim, particularly Arab, attitudes in general, and Palestinian attitudes in particular to Israel and Jews, remains Muslim supremacism. It is not that absolutely every Muslim, Arab or Palestinian buys into all of it (or any of it); it is that Muslim supremacism retains the balance of presumption and opinion and continues to drive attitudes. But Muslim supremacism is central to most of the difficulties between Muslims and non-Muslims (and, for that matter, many of the problems between Muslims; though in such cases it is about what it entails, whether and how it should be adhered to, and who counts as a Muslim). In particular, Muslim supremacism is why the patterns of behaviour within Muslim communities tend to shift depending on their share of the population and their level of local population dominance.

The depressing reality

But looking at all this history is messy and awkward: it gets in the way of all sorts of neat, convenient narratives. It being a common contemporary progressive view that somewhere, somehow, history stopped and no one has inconvenient historical and cultural baggage–well, no non-Westerners. (The principle of Haan history most emphatically applies to the West: including, of course, Israel.)

Taking the broader perspective does lead us to a depressing place. But there is a reason we are not far from the centenary of the Jewish-Arab violence in Israel-Palestine. And the reason is not Zionism and the Jews, the reason is that the Palestinians have not remotely escaped from over 13 centuries of Islamic doctrine and cultural practice. Unless some mechanism is found to sort those who have from those who haven’t, and and increase and keep the former and shrink and expel the latter (since even a hostile minority is enough to keep violence going), the no-peace just provisional arrangements situation will continue, indefinitely.


ADDENDA: Here is a New York Post piece on how much foreign aid to Palestine is spent on supporting violence against Israel. And a Strategy Page piece on the dysfunctional (and homicidal) political competition between Fatah and Hamas. Here is a scholarly piece which includes a discussion of (pdf) the role Muslim hostility to equality with non-Muslims contributed to mayhem and murder in the declining Ottoman Empire.

[Cross-posted from Thinking Out Aloud.]

Why there is so much nonsense spouted about fascism

By Lorenzo

If you are going to invoke the interwar period, particularly the 1930s, please do so intelligently.

By which I mean, non-propagandistically. And by interwar period I mean the phenomenon of fascism and neo-fascism.

Despite self-serving (look at me, I am opposing fascism!) shrieking, there is not a lot of fascism or neo-fascism in contemporary Western politics. Fascists and neo-fascists do, of course, exist but mostly as sad and nasty fringe groups–Golden Dawn in Greece is the most locally successful of the breed, as was the MSI in its early days in Italy (where it got much of its support as an anti-Mafia vote), though nowadays it is post-fascist as a necessary element in mainstreaming itself.

What has become conspicuous is a lot of shrieking-and-pointing about alleged fascists and neo-fascism. (E.g. treating Pauline Hanson, for example here, and Geert Wilders as neofascism and Marine Le Pen‘s National Front in France as fascism.) This has mostly been a result of intellectually impoverished frameworks interacting with moral grandstanding; in particular, the moralised cognitive tribalism that is such a feature of postmodern identity progressivists (PIPs) and their fellow cognitive tribalists.

Militarisation of politics

The reason there is not much fascism or neo-fascism in contemporary Western politics is because there is remarkably little militarisation of politics. By militarisation of politics, I do not mean being pro-military spending, extolling the worth of military service or supporting military intervention. Hillary Clinton and other folk supporting various military interventions are not examples of the militarisation of politics.

Actual Fascists, doing fascist politics.
Mussolini marching on Rome, 1922.

By militarisation of politics, I mean something much more domestic and much more pervasive: seeing politics operationally and rhetorically in military terms; taking military virtues to be the central virtues all society should be directed to creating; seeing military service as the apotheosis that all true men should seek; glorifying military conflict itself.

The appeal of Italian Fascism and German Nazism was deeply pervaded with appeal to the heroic virtues of military service and conflict. It is no accident that both movements had their own paramilitary wings. Mass display of uniformed militarised masculinity was a key part of their political aesthetic, their operational methods, their motivating ideology, of their political branding. It was also no accident that both Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany were aggressive powers: it was something their entire mode of politics was inherently directed towards. (It is also a sign of Franco not being a fascist, rather a traditionalist authoritarian who used some fascist rhetoric and props, that he made the achievement and maintenance of peace a key justifying prop of his regime.)

As peacetime systems of rule, neither Fascist Italy or Nazi Germany were remotely as murderous or systematically oppressive as various Leninist regimes. But peacetime was not their time. It was particularly not in the case of Nazi Germany; lebensraum was Hitler’s political aim, the object the policy of his Reich was directed towards. It was in the removal of normal constraints that war entails which let loose the true megacidal horrors of Nazism.

Nazi politics, 1928.

Indeed, as systems of domestic politics, Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany were relatively unremarkable tyrannies. Nazism was terrible because it exported its viciousness into war and then used war as a cover to let its full megacidal ambitions loose. Italian Fascism was less so in every sense, but engaged in its own, smaller, imperial military adventures and then made itself a co-conspirator in the grander horror.

There do most certainly exist in the modern world analogues of Fascism and Nazism; movements glorifying violent conflict and heroic virtues in grandiose imperial ambitions–the jihadis. Within Western politics, however, not so much.

Militating against

Nor is there any surprise in the lack of such militarisation of politics within the contemporary West. First, is the association of war with horror and vast risks (particularly as a result of the war that Nazi politics let loose), a factor reinforced by low fertility rates (the prospect of war looks very different to a society of families of 5-10 children than a society of families of 1-2 children). Second, it represents a grotesquely failed model of politics even in its own terms. Third, having paramilitary wings is an easy legislative target and a promise of the threat of disorder which is precisely the opposite effect you want to have to get mass political support in the contemporary West. Fourth, there is no issue in contemporary politics with mass appeal that such militarisation represents any sort of even vaguely plausible response to.

Thus, it is no accident that both the National Front in France and the MSI in Italy moved away from their neo-fascist roots in their drive to become more electorally successful: a form of the taming of the extremist fringe which is supposed to be part of the virtue of electoral politics.

Threat levels, then …

Which leads to the other way such contemporary pointing-and-shrieking comprehensively fails to grapple with past and present political reality–in refusing to consider how much the appeal of Italian Fascism and German Nazism rested on the threat of Leninism and Stalinism. In other words, refusing to consider the dynamic nature of politics, its action-and-response nature.

That Fascism was a response to Leninism was both explicit in Mussolini’s thinking and in how his movement was able to generate such high levels of support–the prospect of a Leninist revolution in the Kingdom of Italy in the immediate aftermath of the Great War seemed very real to many. With 20-20 hindsight, whatever risk there had been was in sharp decline before Mussolini’s March on Rome, but that was not how it appeared to many at the time. Without Leninism as a model of total politics (which Mussolini adopted and re-directed) and Leninism as a multi-dimensional threat to social order (which Mussolini posed as the true defender against), Fascism’s militarisation of politics would have seemed grotesque and threatening to the very support base it relied upon. With such a violent revolutionary threat, however, invoking the role of uniformed protectors had much more resonance.

Nazi-Communist street fighting, Berlin, 1930s.

The same points apply to the rise of the Nazis in the 1930s. In the prosperous 1920s, the NSDAP was a fringe Party precisely because its (para)militarised politics was disruptive and threatening. When the insane Bank of France, aided and abetted by a feckless US Federal Reserve, turned the interwar gold standard into a system of economic devastation such that the proudly Stalinist KPD began to electorally overtake the SDP, threatening to bring to Germany the confiscations, totalitarian tyranny, mass starvations and killings of Stalinism, and ordinary politics seemed incapable or unwilling to do anything effective, then the Nazis could point to a problem to which their militarisation of politics could be presented as an answer. Without Stalinism as a model of total politics (which Hitler followed and surpassed Mussolini in adopting and re-directing) and Stalinism as a multi-dimensional threat to social order (which Hitler posed as the true defender against) the NSDAP’s militarisation of politics would have remained a grotesque and threatening folly to the very support base it needed for electoral success.

… and now

The nationalist populisms of our time (notably, One Nation, National Front, Sweden Democrats, Party for Freedom, Flemish Interest, Alternative for Germany, etc) are not Fascist or Nazi, or even neo-Fascist or neo-Nazi, in any useful sense. They are responses to the way globalisation is dividing Western societies into anywheres and somewheres (David Goodhart), into cosmopolitans and parochials (Katharine Betts), with increasingly distinct experiences, perspectives and interests; to contemporary progressivist politics, and to failures of the mainstream centre-right, but they are much less feral responses than Fascism or Nazism because they are not responding to things anywhere near as violently threatening as Leninism in the aftermath of the Bolshevik Revolution, and its variouscopy-catrisings, or Stalinism in the context of widespread, intense, and apparently entrenched economic misery.

The contemporary version:
Hezbollah swearing-in ceremony.

For the 1930s Depression was not enough in itself to generate such politics. Fascist politics remained fringe throughout the Anglosphere, despite the depths of the Depression in the US and Australia particularly. Without mass Leninist or Stalinist Parties, plus rural votes profoundly alienated from the centre-left, there was nothing anywhere near directly threatening enough to create any breakthrough into mass voter support for the militarisation of politics.

There still isn’t in the contemporary West. (Unless relations with the growing Muslim communities in Western Europe continue to spiral downwards.)

What there is, are remarkably arrogant and insular globalist elites who use their sense of moral superiority as a socio-cultural club against any concerns they deem beneath their moral consideration. Folk who display a massive sense of moral entitlement in demanding absolute respect for their moral concerns while habitually displaying complete contempt for the moral concerns of other citizens. Sheer exasperation with their condescending self-involvement is driving working class voters in particular to embrace various forms of populist nationalism. (Or, in Spain and Greece, various form of populist socialism.)

Such populists are pushing nationalism (ethnicity politics) instead of patriotism (polity loyalty), and nationalist politics have all the nasty implications that identity politics do. But if the language of cultural placement and affirmation is not only abandoned by mainstream politics, but actively excoriated, then it creates a massive opportunity for nationalists. Just as if support for migration become a marker of membership of the oh-so-moral cognitive elite, so that any discussion of the downsides and costs of migration (and both exist) is deemed illegitimate, that creates a political opportunity too.

Politics as dynamic interaction

One cannot understand the rise of populist nationalists without understanding the dynamic nature of politics. But that would require the PIPish cosmopolitans to look critically in the mirror, and their entire mode of political, intellectual and cultural operation has become all about signalling their tribal membership and their multidimensional cognitive and moral superiority. So, no mirrors for them.

On the contrary, one signals one’s cognitive tribal membership by blaming folk who display their intellectual and moral culpability by dissenting from progressivist signalling pieties. Which leaves us back to pointing-and-shrieking about fascism and neo-fascism. It’s self-serving nonsense. (Consider, just for a moment, the vast gulf in methods, operations, ambitions and policies between the jihadis and the populist nationalists.) But it is very revealing self-serving nonsense. Unfortunately, the longer PIPish cosmopolitans remain trapped in their self-serving blindness, the greater the number of exasperated and infuriated voters is likely to become. (Because, of course, constantly shouting racist!, xenophobe! is such an excellent way to be persuasive and is not at all about displaying one’s moral superiority.)

The AntiFa idea of being the opposite of fascists:
organised violence with improvised uniforms
to block other people’s peaceful assembly and free speech.

It is also a very old pattern, whereby a socio-cultural elite agrees furiously amongst itself how horrible the rustics/plebs/peasants/proles are. (As is pretty explicit in this post.) Made all the more blindly self-righteous in the contemporary West by the pose of being “subversive” and their addiction to explaining social outcomes as being the result of the malice of their fellow citizens (i.e. as being caused by racism, misogny, [fill in the blank]phobia …) who, because they are the malicious, cannot be debated with, only shrieked at.

For the problem with turning moral beliefs into markers of status and tribal membership is that they become too precious to (re)consider, leading to an increasing hostility to reality and inability to deal with difference. The PIPish cosmopolitans are relentlessly, often viciously, tribal (which makes this post hilarious in its self-blindness). The pointing-and-shrieking fascist! fascist! is a symptom of the cognitive xenophobia, the inability to cope with difference in concerns and perspectives, among those holding the cultural and intellectual “commanding heights” in Western societies that is doing a great deal to make Western politics much more dysfunctional.

So, the fascism! pointing-and-shrieking is not only bad history, it is part of a wider, destructive, self-serving, pattern which is new in details but is otherwise tediously oh-so-been-here-before.

ADDENDA Also worth noting is that both Nazism and Fascism were very explicit in their anti-democratic rhetoric (which, of course, is a another way they parallel the jihadis). Fuhrerprinzip in particular followed logically from the idealisation of the heroic virtues–which come together in a hierarchy of heroic leaders which reached its pinnacle in the Fuhrer himself.

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.]