Decency, righteousness and the add-more-morality error

By Lorenzo

Having what we might call a moral sense, but which is better called a normative sense, has been basic to the evolutionary success of homo sapiens. The ability to accept, and internalise, constraints on behaviour hugely expands the range of practicable social interactions. Particularly important over the longer run in “scaling up” human social interaction has been the constraint of accepting the right to control specific objects, for that allows exchange to take place. The virtue of exchange is that it permits positive social interactions in the simple swap sense–this thing I have for that thing you have–between individuals with little or no other social connection: an obvious prerequisite for significant “scaling up” of human interaction and resource use.

But the normative sense lowers the costs, and so expands the ambit of, embedded exchange between people with strong social connections, such as those which operated within foraging groups–those who hunt and those who gather sharing the fruits of their labour while shaming or excluding those who attempt to free ride. In other words, normatively constraining aggression–whether active (protection of life and person, blocking theft or deceit) or passive (taking without contributing)–hugely reduces the actual or potential costs of transacting, thereby greatly expanding the range of possible transactions. The increased intensity and extent of socially connected interactions within foraging groups was likely the key arena within which the normative sense evolved due to the high level of interaction and information (pdf) within said groups.

Normative cognition

Expanding the range of social interactions expands both cognitive demands on individuals–particularly the ability to “read others” and to communicate–and increases the return to cognitive ability. If better social cooperation means more children surviving to adulthood, then increased cognitive ability is selected for. Potentially quite strongly. It is likely not accidental that tool using (more specifically tool making) and strikingly swift (in evolutionary terms) cognitive expansion went together. Putting effort into tool making will have rather better returns the more it is embedded within constraints on action (such as accepting tool ownership) that increase the range of, and return on, social interaction.

The interactive expansion of cognition and cooperation pushed homo sapiens across the cognitive threshold of becoming a cultural species: that is, to rely far more on learning and learned patterns than on “hard wired” patterns. The normative sense is about capacities and propensities; that goes with homo sapiens being a cultural species. So it is moulded by experience, example and teaching.

Culture could be used to transmit knowledge and expectations. This also provided a mechanism to transmit norms that did not rely on specific genetic mutations: homo sapiens evolved into permitting social mutation, social diversity. We became a multi-level selection species in a very particular sense beyond that otherwise experienced (pdf) in biology. Human culture built on, directed and, via evolutionary advantage, expanded the normative sense.

Culture exists both as generalised framing (what Anglo-Indian economist Deepak Lal calls cosmological beliefs) and as transmitted techniques (what Lal calls material beliefs). The second, being far more immediately and narrowly instrumental, are more pliable to changes in information and incentives than the first, which is about creating and managing common (or at least sufficiently convergent and coherent) expectations and purposes. Such framings can be so unthinkingly basic to the way folk conceive people and the world that it can be hard to even conceive of people having, let along continuing to be committed to, seriously different framings.

Commerce (exchange) involves beneficial interaction with strangers and people with low social connections. It demonstrably fosters pro-social behaviour. “World religions” (i.e. widespread religions with strong ethical teachings) also foster cooperative norms, particularly (but not only) for fellow-believers. The two factors can work together: it is not surprising that trade routes often spread moralising religions–notably Silk Road Buddhism and Nestorian Christianity as well as Islam in the Malay world.

Norms, by positively or negatively constraining and motivating, are ways for ideas to have great social power. In particular, norms + cognitive abstraction permit generalised notions of status, setting up shared expectations. But status hierarchies can also block various forms of cooperation, as well as discouraging or blocking innovation. The more generalised notions of common status are, the greater the ambit of possible social cooperation and innovation. Shifts from highly hierarchical structures of status to much more generalised notions of status can be expected to have very positive effects on (pdf) social cooperation and innovation. Conversely, shifts in the other direction can be expected to have negative effects on both.

The ability to internalise norms which constrain anti-cooperative, and enjoin cooperative, behaviour is not some incidental side benefit of expanded cognition. It is a fundamental part of the evolutionary process which led to the evolution of (greatly) expanded cognitive capacities. Hence language, face recognition, character reading, agreement, bonding beyond kin: the evolved cognitive consequences that make homo sapiens distinctive in so many ways. Hence homo sapiens having a normative sense.

Normative variation

Though not necessarily universally so having, or to the same intensity. The genetic dice are always being thrown, and patterns of variations in underlying normative tendencies can nevertheless be sufficiently stable to persist. Different cultural and institutional contexts can also have quite different outcomes. For example, given a population of knaves (non-cooperators), saints (always cooperate) and moralists (cooperate but punish non-cooperators), blocking the capacity (pdf) to punish has strong negative effects (pdf) on cooperation as moralists withdraw in the face of unpunished free-riding. Add in churls (those who punish “excessive” cooperators) and, even with the ability to punish, the introduction of such anti-social punishment means that social cooperation plateaus. Social cooperation can clearly achieve stable social equilibria, but there is no reason to presume that such equilibria cannot be maladaptive or exclusionary (i.e. not universal): indeed, the historical records shows both are eminently possible.

Internalised norms, in order to have any effect, have a trumping capacity; that is, they override narrow self-interest: often by simply removing options from consideration. Since that creates the danger of easier exploitation by the normatively challenged, the failure of always-cooperate to become the universal normative posture is not surprising. But it also means that norms have to operate, at least to some extent, as ends-in-themselves, otherwise they are going to fall to “trump” other motives and considerations; they will fail to constrain behaviour in the required ways. It is therefore not surprising that norm fulfilment has the capacity to activate reward centres in the brain.

I have resisted calling this morality and a moral sense because it is quite obvious that homo sapiens can accept a wide range of norms, some of which can lead to dramatically immoral actions. In-group and out-group divisions are, after all, normative.

But, to the extent that we are considering morality and moral commitment, it has been what we might call everyday morality–don’t kill, steal, cheat, etc. What we could also call decency. Not what a Victorian lady might call “decency”, since that had a set of taboos embedded in it that led to treating certain vulnerable groups very badly. Just a commitment to a level of other-regarding constrained and enjoined behaviour towards people in general. This is the morality which is necessary to have any sizeable social order at all.

Generalised, such everyday framing of normative constraints can have a strong utilitarian feel to it. It is not big-U Utilitarianism, as it does not try to reduce morality to a single trumping principle. But, in its other-regarding what-do-folk-want? positively constraining practicality, it can seem very utilitarian.

We could speak of everyday norms as a more general concept extending to patterns of civility or courtesy. But systems of courtesy are a bit more like road rules–highly convenient social lubricants but whose actual content is somewhat path dependent and can be used to signal group membership. As for everyday morality, C S Lewis made a notable attempt to identify common elements across a wide range of ethical traditions. While the work of moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt and colleagues has attempted to map, via moral foundations theory, basic elements in human moral reasoning. (The current nominations are care, fairness, liberty, loyalty, authority, and purity.)

Normative exclusion

Everyday morality is also a form of morality that people can be, to a greater or lesser extent, excluded from (as they can also be excluded from courtesy). Which is to say, normatively excluded from. One does not understand bigotry (in the sense of moral exclusion) unless one understands it is always and everywhere a moral (or, at least, normative) claim. It is a claim about standing within the moral/normative order; about what behaviour is, or is not, constrained or enjoined towards members of the excluded group. It is always and everywhere a normative status claim. It arises, not from a lack of “morality”, a lack of normative concern but, in a sense, from an excess of it.

In other words, in arguments over moral exclusion, both those for and against a particular moral exclusion think the other side is betraying basic norms, is supporting immorality.

At its most extreme, moral exclusion casts the so-designated entirely outside the circle of moral protections. Alternatively, they might have a narrowed realm of protected action, movement outside of which then strips them of moral protection. They might simply have a lower level of moral protection than others. Whatever the specific pattern, such moral exclusion remains a normative claim, a claim about standing within the moral order. A claim which is, moreover, specific to the excluded group or groups, not a generalised penalty or constraint applying to everyone.

Though such exclusion can sometimes parade itself as a generalised injunction. Sexual taboos in particular can have this form. Injunctions against same-sex activity, for example, looks general but, in fact, it impose wildly divergent penalties–imposing no direct cost on the only-opposite-sex attracted majority but huge costs on the same-sex-attracted minority. (Pretending that sexual attraction is chosen is, of course, a way to evade the huge difference in normative burden.)

Moral exclusions can derive from two origins. One is simply a view that normative (including moral) constraints are based on connection–they apply to kin and tribe and otherwise to those with some personal connection but either not at all, or far less, to outsiders. We can call this limited or narrow morality (pdf). Such exclusion is more a strategy of failure to include rather than one of deliberate and specific exclusion. Tribal and strongly clannish peoples tend to have this type of normative strategy. Confucianism is a philosophically sophisticated version of this normative strategy. A particularly restrictive (even pathological) version of the normative strategy was famously described as amoral familism, though whether it was an accurate social diagnosis is doubtful (pdf).

Alternatively, groups can be actively excluded from normative protections that would otherwise cover them by a process of stigmatisation. Unlike failure to include, such active exclusion requires justification, as it is withdrawing what would otherwise operate. More specifically, it requires stigmatising justification. The more complete the exclusion, the more intense the stigmatising justification required, as the more intensive is the taking-away.

Righteous grandeur

Such deliberate exclusion requires a normative override of everyday norms by something normatively trumping, something with grander normative status. Such an over-arching normative framing we can call grand morality or righteousness.

Grand morality/righteousness is a normative framing that claims some grand, over-arching purpose and status: obedience to God, providing the path to salvation, freeing society from exploitation, or whatever. It can be religious or secular, but regardless of its grounding, such a normative framing claims the right to limit, or otherwise trump, the constraints of everyday morality. Such trumping can, and often does, extend to stigmatising particular groups with various levels of moral exclusion.

The basis for such grand morality, such righteousness, can be as simple as “God says”. It can be done on the basis of defining the “properly human” in ways which explicitly or implicitly excludes groups of humans–for example, definitions of “human flourishing” which exclude the same-sex attracted. It can be done on the basis of theories of what is required for social order. Or on the basis of what is required for a morally trumping conception of social order. Or postulating some inherent malice in the stigmatised group. Or some combination thereof.

Whatever the justification, such exclusion uses the trumping nature of morality to trump morality–to expand the cognitive reach of morality in purposeful claims but, in so doing, open up the possibility of dispensing with the constraints of everyday morality. A classic example of grand morality/righteousness trumping everyday morality/decency is found in Deuteronomy 13:6-11:

If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying, “Let us go and worship other gods” (gods that neither you nor your ancestors have known,  gods of the peoples around you, whether near or far, from one end of the land to the other),  do not yield to them or listen to them. Show them no pity. Do not spare them or shield them.  You must certainly put them to death. Your hand must be the first in putting them to death, and then the hands of all the people. Stone them to death, because they tried to turn you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. Then all Israel will hear and be afraid, and no one among you will do such an evil thing again.

But human history is replete with examples, both religious and secular. Leninism, for example, is a giant exercise in grand morality trumping everyday morality. The Enlightenment, in generating streams of secular grand moralities, did not abolish righteousness, it merely secularised it.

Normative grandeur

It is not surprising that grand morality developed. It marries the ability to abstract, generalise and theorise which goes with expanded cognitive capacities with the normative sense.

Ever since philosopher Karl Jaspers proposed the concept, the Axial Age has been seen as a period of increased sophistication of abstract thought and perspectives. The period saw an upward shift in size of empires (pdf), likely due to the development of disciplined iron-weapon infantry and militarised mounted warfare in the steppes, encouraging more juxtaposition of cultures, and so perspectives. The era saw the development of coinage, which tended to disrupt old social hierarchies and create more fluid social interactions while creating a token-content distinction. Increased trade encouraged more specialisation and more urbanisation, which further encouraged juxtaposition of perspectives and created critical masses of thinkers.

In China, intense inter-state conflict, culminating in the Qin unification, encouraged abstract thought about social order–most famously Confucianism and Legalism. In India, the development of new religious perspectives encouraged abstract thought about cosmic order. In the Greek world, the development of heavy infantry city-states in Greece encouraged the development of that form of social bargaining known as citizenship, which encouraged attention to public persuasion and generated a wider range of political forms, encouraging abstract analysis.

But elements of grand morality are rather older than that. The cosmic-good-versus-cosmic-evil perspective dates back to Zoroaster, who likely lived around 1500BC, which would put him well before the Axial Age. But even older than that, we can see order-versus-chaos perspectives, such as in the Egyptian concept of Maat. With farming societies being susceptible to drought, flood, disease, etc, it is not hard to see how an order-versus-chaos perspective would make sense and frame folks’ hopes and fears.

Hierarchical grandeur

So, more complex social orders are likely to generate systems of grand morality. Particularly as, once one gets hierarchical societies, stories of justification are required–since hierarchies are normative. The constraints of hierarchy have to be internalised to have any strength or stability, so social stratification builds on the normative sense.

Note that being internalised does not require belief, in the sense of cognitive commitment, merely that they be routinised; that folk know what is expected and routinely act upon that expectation. Attempts to turn legitimacy into a descriptive characteristic typically claim too much, turning legitimacy into the analytical equivalent of phlogiston–how do we know a structure of power was regarded as legitimate? People obeyed it. How do we know that people stopped regarding it as legitimate? People stopped obeying it. Nevertheless, that justificatory stories are told in an attempt to get cognitive commitment illustrates the importance of the normative sense in socially-embedded behaviour.

One of the signs of increased social ranking is the switch from egalitarian ritual houses to hierarchical temples. And an effective source of social power and status is to be a gatekeeper of righteousness; someone who specifies what is required by the shared normative order and who is excluded from the same, why and to what degree. A role priests and clerics have taken down the ages and which secular clerisies have also adopted. A Soviet commissar was a gatekeeper of righteousness every bit as much as a Catholic priest, a rabbi or an iman. In the contemporary world, democracies can also throw up bodies that act as would-be gatekeeper’s of righteousness.

Mainstream Islam, by positing a huge moral gulf between believer and unbeliever, is a limited morality with universalist claims. The believer/unbeliever gulf profoundly limits its doctrinal commitment to everyday morality and sells a powerful status claim exulting believers while its complex, revelation-grounded, rules and taboos undermine ordinary moral judgement and reinforce the normative believer/unbeliever gap. Sharia, as the laws of God, sovereign of the universe, make Islamic religious scholars, through the process of fiqh, pervasively gatekeepers of righteousness. Whether mainstream Islam can shed the patriarchal misogyny, the queer- and Jew-hatred, the disdain for the religious “other”, the social imperialism which is so built into its traditional structure is precisely what so many people are currently killing, and being killed, over.

Christianity is grand morality via love God, but everyday-morality-on-steroids in its love thy neighbour as thy self. Hence the development of asterisk Christianity: love thy neighbour as thyself except *(Jews, queers, heretics, … )–add in excluded group as required, as has been perennially done by Christian gatekeepers of righteousness selling believer-virtue.

Normative overkill

The profound difference between everyday morality and righteousness is why adding more morality can be the opposite of a solution to social ills: the greatest crimes in the modern age have been from an excess of moral fervour, not the lack of it. It is far from silly to write of, for example, The Nazi Conscience. The Armenian genocide, the Greek-Pontic and Assyrian genocides were all built on Islamic teachings turning religious difference into a profound normative distinction. While the democides of Leninism were perpetuated by self-identified Left regimes who engaged in mass murdering tyranny in the name of a world-historically grand normative framing. They mass murdered, oppressed and tyrannised not because of a lack of moral purpose and commitment, but because of a grand-morality-trumping-everyday-morality excess of it. Indeed, the denial and excuse-making, the apologetics that occurred about the actions of such regimes within Left-circles in the West were precisely because of the shared commitment to a system of secular righteousness. A pattern which lives on with the memory-hole treatment of that bleak history within large sections of contemporary academe.

Morally deformed individuals dispense with the requirements of everyday morality if it is personally convenient for them to do so. But how do we systematically dispense with the constraints of everyday morality? By trumping it with grand morality. Bigotry is indeed a deforming of everyday morality, but it is invariably based on some sort of grand morality.

So, the grander the moral project, the more everyday morality is likely to be sacrificed in its name.

In the realm of grand morality, of righteousness, one can play a game of normative one-upmanship–our moral project is so much grander than yours. With all the implicit, or explicit, status claim that goes with that. Worse, by exulting righteousness as an all-trumping concern tied to moral status, an upward bidding process can be set in motion whereby each upward righteousness cycle dispenses with another layer of everyday morality. There can also be self-reinforcing networks of righteousness.

Minorities are easy targets for gatekeepers of righteousness, operating either as authority-holders or networks. Sexual and gender minorities particularly, as they are born as isolated individuals in overwhelmingly straight families and social milieus and the differences involved lend themselves so readily to normatively differentiating rules of righteousness that look general but in fact impose massively uneven burdens–effortless virtue for the straight majority, intense burdens on the queer minority. But religious minorities, particular occupations, ethnic minorities, belief minorities–they have all proved easy targets for gatekeepers of righteousness.

Normatively knowing

Being a gatekeeper of righteousness uses a certain form of human capital–education in the system normative framing used. And certain forms of social capital–setting the requirements and policing the membership of social networks.

Possessors of human capital have a long history of seeing themselves as the purveyors of virtue. They may even present (to themselves above all) as the purveyors of “sweetness and light” (capital). In fact, they are possessors of we-know capital, which easily becomes we-know-better-than-you capital, which easily becomes we-are-so-more-knowingly-virtuous-than-you capital. There is nothing more grand, after all, than knowing the “proper” ordering of society and the “proper” direction of history. It is particularly grand if it involves wholesale reconstruction of what currently exists.

By contrast, commerce generates no inherent tendency to care about grand morality, but operates in the realm of everyday morality. (Despite perennial claims to the contrary, market integration is actually generally a moral positive, fostering social cooperation.) Even the charity commerce finances is typically everyday morality writ somewhat larger.

Alas, commerce’s indifference is, in many ways, the worst possible insult to the proponents of self-evidently-so-important grand morality. While the dynamism of commerce threatens the inherently static nature of Virtue orders (with none being more static than income equality). Hence the millennia long disdain by “virtuous” intellectuals for “grubby” commerce.

Grounding purpose

But it is not only a delusion that adding morality is automatically a social positive, though a very useful delusion for status-building and seizing social power. There is a more basic problem–norms may have to operate as ends-in-themselves but they are not as fundamental as they present.

The point of the normative sense is to permit social cooperation in an expanded social order. Morality is not the most important thing in the world: having something to be moral about is more important.

Yes, morality is necessary to have a social order of any size or complexity—but everyday morality (don’t kill, steal, assault, etc). Grand morality (or righteousness) is often about over-riding everyday morality. In claiming to fulfil the “true” normative purpose, it often damages, limits or abolishes normative protections. In its trumping of ends, it corrupts means.

The core of morality is not about purposes, not even grand purposes, but about constraining the means we use to achieve whatever purposes we have. For our ends may never be achieved but the means we choose affect others very directly. Hence the problem with grand morality—it uses its trumping grand purpose to justifying brushing aside normative constraints: it subverts the core of morality in the name of morality.  As C S Lewis noted:

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.

No, adding more morality is not an automatic social gain. Indeed, it can be very much a matter of grave harm and profound social loss.


[Cross-posted from Thinking Out Aloud.]

Against Austrian business cycle theory

By Lorenzo

Former Austrian school economist Bryan Caplan recently won a bet against Austrian school economist Bob Murphy on the path of US inflation. Caplan won by betting with the key market indicator (TIPS), Murphy lost by betting against it.

At first glance, that the ex-Austrian won by following the market while the Austrian lost by not doing so might seem strange, but it instances why I am deeply unpersuaded by Austrian Business Cycle theory–that it is an analysis from a tradition that very strongly favours taking markets seriously (particularly their information revealing qualities) yet strikingly stops doing so to get a congenial theoretical outcome.

Austrian Business Cycle Theory (ABCT) is a theory of the unsustainable boom. It notes that capital is highly varied (or, economist say, is heterogeneous)–in particular, has a range of durations until completion. Interest rates coordinate current expenditure versus future income expectations.

If the central bank, in order to foster economic expansion, sets the key interest rate “too low”–that is, below the level that will create a stable level of successful capital projects–then entrepreneurs are led to over-invest in projects because capital is cheaper than its actual long-term prospects justify. So, there is misallocation of capital–the profile of created capital does not fit actual expenditure patterns. This is what Austrian theory calls malinvestment. The result is a surge in failed business projects, consequently of failed or distressed firms, leading to income and expenditure cuts, leading to that transactions crash we call “recession” or, if sufficiently severe, depression.

My objections to the theory are twofold: it doesn’t fit the evidence and it is implausible even in theory.

Not fitting the evidence

The theory suggests that the long-term economic pattern should be one of a surge in economic output above trend (the unsustainable boom) and then a crash below it. This is not the pattern we see: on the contrary, what we see conforms much more to Milton Friedman‘s “plucking model” (pdf)–that is, there is a long term growth trend that recessions and depressions “pluck” the economy away from (pdf). A pattern which suggests the economy is pushed (temporarily) off its growth path by various shocks. Despite attempts to claim otherwise, I am unpersuaded that ABCT can be re-construed to fit the evidence.

Particularly as the theory also suggests that the crash should be correlated with the preceding boom–the further the capital overshoot, the worse the resulting crash. Again, this is not what we see (pdf). Recessions and depressions are not correlated with the preceding expansions, but are correlated with the subsequent expansions (pdf).  A result which led Friedman to propose his “plucking model”. Again, this conforms far better with the economy being shocked off its growth path before returning to it.

Given that industries systematically vary by both the scale and duration of their capital creation, the theory also implies that the crash should hit in sequence and to varying degrees–the shortest capital duration industries hit first, the longest capital duration industries hit later; the lower scale capital industries hit least, the bigger scale capital industries hit most. These factors are, to a significant extent, contra-indicated–i.e. short duration capital projects also tend to be low scale capital industries while long duration capital projects tend to be high scale capital industries.

Even so, there should a capital-profile sequence to industry downturns. Again, this is not what we see: transaction crashes tend to hit all industries simultaneously. Such transaction crashes are most plausible assigned to the demand side (i.e. monetary factors) as, in a monetised economy, money is the thing which is one half of all transactions in all industries. Even when there are supply shocks, (1) monetary policy can counter-balance the effects and (2) such shocks are generally a specific shock to the economy, not rolling capital project failures.

One might counter by arguing that particular projects are engaged in a rolling fashion. But that reduces the industry sequencing issue at the cost of undermining the systematic distortion effect.

The theory also assumes that central banks are biased in one direction only–in an inflationary one. Yet the historical record shows that, while there is certainly a general inflationary trend for fiat money, there was no such trend by central banks under gold standards. And ABCT was originally devised in a gold standard world. Attempts to redefine “inflation” to mean “monetary/credit expansion” simply beg the question–an alleged cause being conflated into the presumed effect.

Moreover, the historical record also shows that, in the right circumstances, central banks can be biased in a contractionary direction. This was most dramatically true in 1928-32 but also true from 2008 onwards: on both occasions, the contractionary bias was because central banks prioritised policy credibility (commitment to the gold standard; commitment to low inflation) over economic activity. In doing so, contractionary central banks created the most severe economic downturns of the C20th[last 100 years]. A business cycle theory that is so dramatically wrong about the two worst economic downturns of the C20th[last 100 years]–central bank policy in the opposite direction as predicted and economies consequently being shocked off their growth path–is not much of a business cycle theory.

Implausible in theory

So, there are severe evidentiary problems with the theory as any sort of general business cycle explanation. Even saying “but it is just a theory of the unsustainable boom” suffers from the lack of instances it accurately describes.

There are also some serious theoretical problem with the theory. The first is, ironically, not taking heterogeneity of capital seriously enough. Heterogeneity of labour and of capital leads to heterogeneity of debt and debt/equity profiles. How can there be a key singlenatural or otherwise, rate which can distort the entire structure of investment?  Including across its varying time frames, across which interest rates also vary.

What we are looking at is a schedule of interest rates varying by time and asset. It can be argued that the central bank policy rate (the interest rate used to signal policy) effectively anchors the entire schedule, as the central bank is the monopoly supplier of the monetary base. Its policy rate is really an indicator about the future path of monetary policy, and an indicator which is a function of it being said monopoly supplier and its policy credibility. But an indicator which has far more direct effects on nominal interest rates rather than real interest rates.

But to put so much emphasis on interest rates in investment decisions looks perilously like reasoning from a price change. The central bank has signalled, by cutting its policy interest rate, a more expansive path in monetary policy. But that is, for the economy, a general tendency: entrepreneurs still have to make assessments about particular assets and particular production decisions. As the localised nature of the housing market booms and busts in the US have demonstrated, housing markets experiencing the very same monetary policy can have very different dynamics.

The claim that entrepreneurs will be sufficiently homogeneous in their responses, across very heterogeneous asset and production markets, to create the bust looks suspiciously like only embracing complexity when it is convenient. (Noting that to claim more decisions to invest will be made is not the same as claiming that the structure of production will be distorted.)

More seriously, the claim runs into an information problem–as others have noted, Austrian theory apparently has access to information than none of the market participants do. The central bank knows enough to inflate the economy but none of the market participants have the knowledge to work out what the central bank is doing and the consequences thereof. There is a serious consistent expectations (i.e. rational expectations, but consistent expectations is a more accurate term) problem here.

In his (losing) bet with Bryan Caplan, Bob Murphy was being very “Austrian” in assuming his theory gave him information hidden from market participants–Austrian theory really, really believing in markets until it suddenly really, really doesn’t. Bryan Caplan was being much more consistent (dare one say rationally consistent) in his expectations by going with the market indicator.

What is more plausible–that there is enormously-important-for-future-income information lying around being ignored by everyone except by clever Austrian school folk or that economies are shocked off their growth path: an economic shock being an unanticipated change?

Austrian school, meet the Australian economy

These theoretical and empirical problems come together in the record expansion of the Australian economy since 1991. That is, Australia has not had an economic recession (in the sense of two quarters of [negative] economic growth) since 1991. It still has a business cycle, just a very flat one.

What is more plausible–that the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) got its policy interest rate essentially correct for 23 years straight, so that Australian entrepreneurs got their capital projects (on balance) continually right? Or that the RBA sufficiently anchored inflation and income expectations that the Australian economy has not been shocked enough off its growth path since RBA introduced its policy of aiming for a 2-3%pa inflation rate on average over the business cycle ?

Surely, the second option is much more plausible.

So, I do not agree with the Austrian School business cycle theory. In particular, I am very unsurprised that an Austrian economist lost by betting against the key market indicator. The Austrian Business Cycle theory presumes special knowledge against market agents and the indicators they generate: a presumption which is not a strength. Still less a reason to accept the theory.


[Cross-posted from Thinking Out Aloud.]

Most Muslims are non-violent

By Lorenzo

It is true: most Muslims are non-violent (in the straightforward sense that, outside defence of themselves and their immediate family, they do not engage in violence). In fact, as far as I am aware, that has true across the history of Islam, especially as Muslims includes women and children. But even if we just consider men, most Muslim men are non-violent. Again, as far as I am aware, that has also been true across the history of Islam (apart from its earliest years).

It is also irrelevant. Sadly, across the breadth of human societies through time, it is the violent who have been wildly disproportionately important in determining the trends and patterns of human history. So, with Islamic history, the key issues have far less to do with what connection it has to the non-violent majority, but what sort of connection it has to the direction, forms and patterns of violence (and violence-laden aggression) among any violent minority.

There the news is less good. We can observe among the Muslim minority (pdf) in France–including those born and raised in France, and given a secular state education–the same patterns of persecution of minority kafir as we do in Muslim majority countries.

Recurring patterns

What is striking about Islamic history is how powerful the recurring patterns are. While we currently observe violent movements claiming to purify Islam and return it to its original vision, such started not long after the death of Mohammad, with the Khwarij, and continued in medieval Islam, with the Almoravids and Almohads being perhaps the most notable examples.

In modern times, the Mahdiyya movement in Sudan, the Wahhabis of Arabia, the Deobandi of South Asia and the Salafist movements are all examples of this reformist (in the sense of returning to the origin and getting rid of later accretions) urge in Islam.  So is the Islamist movement, though it has a modernising element in its operational techniques while overlapping greatly with the aforementioned movements. Though Salafism in particular has a strong quietist stream, violent revivalism has been a notable feature of these movements.

Proselytising violence by non-state actors also has a long history in Islam, though the successful examples usually turn themselves into states. The Assassins are a colourful example of the non-state version, while the Almoravids, Almohads, Safavids, Mahdists and Wahhabis are examples of non-state actors founding states. Thus both Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State have plenty of precedents in Islamic history. That Sharia is not state-based law, but is the law of Allah, the sovereign of the universe, aids and encourages the operation of non-state actors while providing the means for relatively easy evolution into states.

Modernisers and traditionalists

Just as the reformist urge is a recurring pattern within Islam, so is the modernising urge–seeking to incorporate within Islam useful thinking by non-Muslims. Again, this was an early manifestation in Islam, notably with the Mu’tazila movement.

The pattern so far in Islamic history is clear–the modernisers lose. Accepting the technology of the infidel is acceptable (with some resistance: the Ottoman Empire‘s reaction to the printing press was to ban it for believers and then license a single printing press during the C18th), but not much more than that. Seriously new thinking in Islam has tended to either give rise to minorities regarded as dubiously Muslim by the majority (e.g. IsmailisAhmadisAlawitesAlevis) or to movement out of Islam (DruzeBahai).

Which leaves traditional Islam as the dominant stream–the Islam inherited from one generation to another, taking on local accretions on the way through. A stream that nevertheless produces reformist and modernising outbreaks.

Migration to the West tends to disrupt traditional Islam by taking it out of its traditional cultural context and constraints, leaving members of Muslim communities open to the reformist or modernising urges. Unfortunately, the reformist urge has billions of Saudi petrodollars behind it. It also has the appeal of the heroic sacrifice of jihadism–to which the Islamic State has managed to add psychopathic sex-tourism (pdf).

Built for imperialism

That the adherents of traditional Islam are relatively passive and non-violent is far from meaning that mainstream Islam is unproblematic.

Generally speaking, imperialism is what states do. States are mechanisms for dominance and expropriation and tend to expand that dominance and expropriation up to when some constraint sets in (either a rival state or the benefit/cost ratio is not worth it). Latin-Christendom-cum-Western civilisation became so successfully imperialist because it evolved extremely effective states. So much more effective than anyone else’s states that they came to dominate most of the planet.

Conquests under Mohammad, the early Caliphs and the Umayyad Caliphs.

Of the existing human civilisations, only one is actually structured for imperialism, and that is Islam, and it was so structured from its calendrical origins, Mohammad’s flight to (and then taking control of) Medina. It is not some weird accident, some historical absent-mindedness, that Muhammad’s companions, and the Umayyad and Abbasid caliphates that followed them, presided over the largest surge in religious conquest in history. Nor was it some weird accident that, over a thousand years after the Mohammad’s death, the largest Muslim state was still trying to advance into the heart of Europe using religious justifications and structures that had been used, in various forms, to aggress against every culture Islam came up against during those thousand years.

From 634 to 1683, the level and scale of Muslim aggression against Christendom hugely outweighed the reverse. Christian offensive efforts were counter-aggression, attempts to regain lands previously lost to Islam; the ultimately failed Crusades–or, as Muslim writers called them, the Franj wars–and the successful Reconquista.

Muslim aggression against Zoroastrian, Buddhist and Brahmin lands also hugely outweighed the reverse. Nor did Islam stop aggressing because of some change in basic ideas: it came up against the better predators the European targets of its aggression had evolved into while itself failing to adapt successfully to the increasing competition.

The features which structured Islam to aggression are:

  1. The concept of Sharia as the law of the Sovereign of the universe, to which everyone is rightfully subject to and to whose rule everyone should rightfully submit to.
  2. The centrality of the acceptance of the revelations of Mohammad to one’s moral status: in particular, that those who accept said revelations should rightfully rule those who do not, could rightfully fight to impose such rule and, in the interim, raid and enslave non-believers in lands that had not yet accepted Sharia rule. Hence the classic Islamic concept of martyrdom was do die in battle against unbelievers.
  3. The endorsement of both polygyny (creating a wife shortage among low status male believers) and sex slavery (sanctifying the normal response to [pdf] polygyny–raiding of outgroups and seizing their women).

In other words, Islam created an encompassing moral-and-religious identity that could unite people across lineages (and later, after the Abbasid Revolution, ethnic groups) while sanctifying and motivating violence, particularly proselytising violence, against those outside the identity, or its rule. The separateness of this identity can be readily extended to admonitions that believers should not be friends with non-believers and strong resistance to taking the side of a non-believer against a believer.

Zealots past and present

It is worth noting that Muslim clerics have few incentives to soften the package. They have interests in having the moral and social authority of being gatekeepers of righteousness. Restricting the moral realm to revelation that they have the knowledge of, and skill in interpreting, and emphasising the difference between believers and non-believers, increases the salience of their role as gatekeepers of righteousness.

We have been here before. The Hebrews were very unrestful subjects for the Roman Empire. Violent minorities therefrom would be periodically homicidally enraged that following God’s law was subject to the constraints imposed by mere human law. Particularly the law of the pagan Romans, who tolerated all sorts of gender and sexual identities. The sicarii sub-group stabbed Romans and Roman sympathisers. Much of the violence of the said homicidally enraged fell on fellow Hebrews.

What we now think of as Judaism is essentially the rabbinical, the religious scholars’, response to the dilemma of Roman rule–the dilemma being that they could not successfully revolt but, if they did not find a way of adjusting the deemed authority of God’s law, the Romans were going to destroy them as a people. The Roman response to revolt being severe–massacres, enslavings, deportations, salutary crucifixions.

The rabbis were building on the experience of living in Mesopotamia, and in Alexandria (their largest urban community), as minorities in foreign lands. On the way through, they caveated into oblivion the Mosaic Law’s penchant for capital punishment.

But the effect was to squeeze out–via external Roman slaughter and internal doctrinal adjustment–the homicidal opposition to human law (even non-believer human law) trumping God’s law.

The same underlying dynamic of permanent minority status drives much of the difference between mainstream Islam and the various Muslim minorities–the latter have adjusted to permanent minority status and its implications. Conversely, the mainstream have had few reasons to make similar adjustments which are sufficiently persuasive across the entire body of scholars. Considering what it took to squeeze out the violent tendency in Hebrew religious conceptions, the prospects for an end to religious violence emanating from within Islam are not good. Especially not when organised and violent religious fervour can demonstrably create (Saudi Arabia, Islamic State) or seize (Islamic Republic of Iran) states.

Christianity has its own history of religious strife. But Christianity always accepted the validity of human law, did not take revelation to be the entire moral realm, generally accepted the world as the direction creation of God so trumping Scripture (the indirect creation of God). This allowed social bargaining to become entrenched in political institutions. Reaction against the slaughter and destruction of the religious wars could also lever off appeals to classical ideas, the impact of the Scientific Revolution and the expanded horizons of the Age of Discovery to make religious identity increasingly less salient, and other aspects of identity more so.

It was only the overwhelming success of the West which allowed broad notions of social bargaining to get anywhere in Islam (though Western imperial interests also intervened to periodically sabotage or undermine the same). But even with wide acceptance of the value of democracy by Muslims, Middle Eastern Islam in particular has great difficulties taking a broad view of who to bargain with. The continuing pattern being that, if one’s ethno-religious group does not control the state, then you are oppressed.

It just does not get us very far

The point is not that any given person of Muslim heritage endorses this whole package, or even that most do. The logic of belief is not necessarily the logic of any given believer.

The point is that Islamic identity is not one without content. Nor is it one with only congenial content. And the outlooks and ideas deeply embedded in Islam perennially motivate separation between believers and non-believers and aggression against non-believers. The contemporary foreign fighters people angst about are just ghazis with aeroplane tickets, and Islam has been producing ghazis regularly for its entire history.

So yes, most Muslims are non-violent. That is true, and beside the point.

What is much more to the point is that the experience of European countries, such as France (pdf), shows that the problematic patterns within Islam kick in at remarkably low proportions of the population–more than 2%, less than 10%. In that range, the combination of problematic ideas deeply embedded in Islam, plus the development of a motivated minority of sufficient size, generates problems for the host society folk would prefer not to have to deal with. Particularly for such vulnerable minorities as Jews and queer* folk. Islamic supremacism is deeply embedded.

There are problems which are simply specific to Muslim migration because Islam really is a distinctive civilisation, with distinctive presumptions and patterns.

So, it is not inherently irrational or prejudiced to be concerned about the level and scale of Muslim migration. Such concerns can be well-grounded in the content, history and contemporary experience of Islam.


* I really dislike the inelegance and elasticity of the GLBTI acronym, hence using queer.


[Cross-posted from Thinking Out Aloud.]

Moral sensibility and modernity

By Lorenzo

Religions have rituals and doctrines: mechanisms of participation and belief. They also engender moral sensibilities that provide ways of normatively framing the world regarding people, places, social arrangements. Most Swedes, for example, are not believing or actively participating Lutherans, yet centuries of Lutheranism being the overwhelmingly dominant flavour of religion has deeply influenced Swedish moral sensibility.

When folk try and divide human societies into civilisations, it is typically done so at least partly on the basis of religion (Islam, Buddhist, Hindu, Orthodox) or some other normative philosophy (Confucianism) or combination of such and geography (Latin American) or has such religion-derived sensibilities lying behind it (Shinto-Buddhist for Japan, Judaeo-Christian for the West).

The most famous recent example of this is the taxonomy of civilisations used by political scientist Samuel Huntingdon in his “Clash of Civilisations” thesis. As I have explained before, I do not agree with Huntingdon’s overall analysis–in the international state system, cooperation and conflict are not symmetrical. But that religions generate moral sensibilities that can outlast adherence to their specific doctrines and rituals is clearly true. As is that shared religious histories can generated shared (or at least convergent) moral sensibilities.

Religions can also affect people’s attitude to time, or temporal orientation: whether people tend to be future-focused or present-focused or past-focused. Being future-focused, for example, tends to make people both more reliable, and more willing, cooperators. Protestants, and those who have Protestant-derived moral sensibilities, tend to be future-focused, for example, while Catholic-derived moral sensibilities tend to be past or present-focused; hence Protestant-majority countries tend to have lower risk premiums on their public debt than Catholic-majority countries. These differences in moral sensibilities and typical temporal orientation extend to historically Protestant countries tending to have lower rates of corruption and higher rates of trust than Catholic ones.

So, religions do not only matter as generators of rituals and doctrines, they also matter in the way they deeply influence moral sensibilities, attitudes to time, ways of looking at the world; and do so even without regular attendance to the rituals or strong adherence to doctrines. The sensibilities, temporal orientations and other framings can remain after belief and participation has departed. Anglo-Indian economist Deepak Lal makes a useful distinction:

It is useful to distinguish between two major sorts of beliefs relating to different aspects of the environment. These relate to what in my recent Ohlin lectures I labeled the material and cosmological beliefs of a particular culture. The former relate to ways of making a living and concerns beliefs about the material world, in particular about the economy. The latter are related to understanding the world around us and mankind’s place in it which determine how people view their lives-its purpose, meaning and relationship to others. There is considerable cross-cultural evidence that material beliefs are more malleable than cosmological ones. Material beliefs can alter rapidly with changes in the material environment. There is greater hysterisis in cosmological beliefs, on how, in Plato’s words, “one should live”. Moreover the cross-cultural evidence shows that rather than the environment it is the language group which influences these world-views.

What Lal calls cosmological beliefs are both persistent and derived from religion or other, deeply historically embedded, normative philosophy. Hence, for example, the World Values Survey can be used to usefully group countries.

Islam’s modernity temper tantrum

Of the existing civilisations sharing this planet, only one is prominently having an extended temper tantrum about modernity; an extended temper tantrum with a distinctly homicidal edge.

The West essentially invented modernity, Japan has long since embraced it; China et al are very much up for it (the Beijing regime would just like to indigenise a congenial-to-it version); Russia et al ditto; Latin America is trying to get there (despite an unfortunate institutional legacy and outbreaks of really bad policy ideas); sub-Saharan Africa is struggling under bad boundaries and poor institutions but is also trying.

It is only Islam that is producing significant murderous insurgencies against modernity (and especially against the egalitarian cosmopolitanism which is such a strong strain within modernity–there is nothing like attacking schoolsuniversities, cafessoccer matchesrock concerts, along with beheadingscrucifixions and killing bloggers while re-introducing slavery to say “we hate modernity”).

Which makes the jihadis the Islamic equivalent of the Nazis–a modernising (in technique) revolt against modernity that hates Jews, fetishises warriors and violence, invokes a past age of warrior conquest–as I have discussed before. (Indeed, all the totalitarianisms are somewhat atavistic.) Though the jihadis are adherents of a master belief rather than members of a would-be master race.

But Nazism was let loose by the disaster of the Great War followed by the Great Depression. In the case of Islam, it is modernity itself which is the problem; no great crisis was required to let loose the revolt-with-strong-homicidal edge against it from within Islam.

Salafism, the attempt to return to the origins of Islam by “purifying it” of subsequent accretions, is in large part a revolt against modernity by retreating further into Islam. Deobandi is the South Asian equivalent and dates back to the later C19th: Salafism outside Saudi Arabia arose in the C20th. Though the intellectual roots of both go deep into Islamic tradition and the response to the demographic and cultural disaster of the Mongol invasions, which itself reprised Mohammad’s response to the Muslim defeat at the battle of Uhud.

One needs to be aware the Salafism comes in various flavours (quietist, activist, jihadi) which overlap with Saudi Wahhabism but are not identical (pdf). Moreover, its “quietist” tradition is quite hostile (pdf) to Islamism (especially its takfiri tendencies) and its prioritisation of political engagement. While Islamism–political Islam–has Salafist versions. Islamism also comes out of the later C19th but does not reach much in the way of organised form until the founding of the Muslim Brotherhood in 1928. This confusing welter of responses is itself a sign of the difficulties modernity poses for Islam as religion and as a source of normative framings.

Comparing revivalisms

Christianity also has a revivalist movement seeking to return to the origins of the religion. That is Pentecostalism which, in terms of gaining adherents, is notably more successful than Salafism. Salafism likely has around 50m adherents, and there are over 70m Deobandis, while Pentecostalism has around 270m adherents. Add in Charismatics, and Christian revivalism, attempting to re-enchant the world, has over 580m adherents.

A reasonable estimate for Islamists is about 10-15% of Muslims. There are about 1.6bn Muslims, so that suggests 160m to 240m Islamists (most of whom are Salafis, Wahhabis or Deobandis). Thus, Christian revivalist movements have considerably more adherents than Muslim revivalist movements (revivalism whether as purification or as political activism). But the Christian revivalism goes largely unremarked and un-newsworthy because Christian revivalism does not have remotely the homicidal edge Islamic revivalism does. For what one is attempting to return to, makes a difference.

The ongoing Christian revivalism has not generated any equivalent to the specifically religious political engagement of Islamism or the homicidal activism of the jihadis, both because early Christianity is very different from early Islam and because the moral sensibilities that Islam generates are very different from the moral sensibilities derived from Christianity; differences that go back to doctrine.

Christianity as it has evolved, that is. Evolution being something which is easier for Christianity to do than Islam; for, as a friend noted in conversation:

Islam has a complete, literal and authoritative source to bootstrap the original religion from. [Christianity and Judaism] don’t.

Quite. The Gospels don’t give anywhere the detailed rules and doctrines that the Quranhadith and life of the Prophet do. There is no Christian equivalent of Sharia.

Not merely because Christianity accepts the legitimacy of human law–even canon law is acknowledged to be law-making by human authority, albeit one seeking guidance from revelation–though that is a huge difference in itself. But because the defeat of Aristotelianism within Islam, with the triumph of al-Ghazali and the intellectual tradition he represented, meant rejection within mainstream Islam of the notion that there was any grounding for moral judgement apart from revelation.

This rejection continues to have force. It led Islamic states to issue their own version of the UN 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 1990 Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam–not something states from any other civilisation have felt the need to do. A declaration with, as Wikipedia puts it:

provides an overview on the Islamic perspective on human rights, and affirms Islamic sharia as its sole source.

Because there is no grounding for moral judgement beyond revelation. Which creates serious difficulties if one wants to “update” Islam, for there is no widely accepted place to rest the lever to “move” the religion and civilisation other than revelation. A problem that Christianity has not had to grapple with. Thus, when Pope Paul III, in his 1537 papal bull Sublimus Dei, banned the enslaving of the inhabitants of the Americas, he was grounding the claim as much in natural law thinking as in Scripture (indeed, arguably more). Two centuries later, the Enlightenment attempt to put religious authority in a box could argue on grounds outside revelation, and look to pre-Christian (classical) thought, and not have the entire effort ruled as automatically illegitimate.

When considering how to treat non-believers, Islam presents its followers with the following words of Muhammad:

When you meet your enemies who are polytheists, invite them to three courses of action. If they respond to any one of these, you also accept it and withold yourself from doing them any harm. Invite them to (accept) Islam; if they respond to you, accept it from them and desist from fighting against them. Then invite them to migrate from their lands to the land of Muhairs and inform them that, if they do so, they shall have all the privileges and obligations of the Muhajirs. If they refuse to migrate, tell them that they will have the status of Bedouin Muslims and will be subjected to the Commands of Allah like other Muslims, but they will not get any share from the spoils of war or Fai’ except when they actually fight with the Muslims (against the disbelievers). If they refuse to accept Islam, demand from them the Jizya. If they agree to pay, accept it from them and hold off your hands. If they refuse to pay the tax, seek Allah’s help and fight them (Sahih Muslim  4924).

Christians are people of the book, but are often taken to be polytheists because of the Trinity. The contrast with Sublimus Dei is profound. Especially on the matter of slavery, taking first the words of Allah in the QuranSura 4:24:

And [also prohibited to you are all] married women except those your right hands possess. [This is] the decree of Allah upon you. And lawful to you are [all others] beyond these, [provided] that you seek them [in marriage] with [gifts from] your property, desiring chastity, not unlawful sexual intercourse. So for whatever you enjoy [of marriage] from them, give them their due compensation as an obligation. And there is no blame upon you for what you mutually agree to beyond the obligation. Indeed, Allah is ever Knowing and Wise.

The phrase “what your right hand possess” is about what the sword hand takes. There is explanatory hadith (i.e. words of Muhammad) clarifying the point:

Having overcome them and taken them captives, the Companions of Allah’s Messenger (may peace te upon him) seemed to refrain from having intercourse with captive women because of their husbands being polytheists. Then Allah, Most High, sent down regarding that:” And women already married, except those whom your right hands possess (iv. 24)” (i. e. they were lawful for them when their ‘Idda period came to an end) (Sahih Muslim 3432).

It is particularly ridiculous for non-believers to go on about Islam as a “religion of peace” because because, to the extent it has any meaning in orthodox Islamic usage, it only applied to those who had accepted Sharia rule: Islam is “the religion of peace” for territory where Islam, (specifically) Sharia, rules–including the subordinating restrictions of the Conditions of Umar for non-Muslim “people of the Book”.

Sharia is the law of Allah, the sovereign of the universe, sought by the process of fiqh undertaken by considering the Quran, the hadiths and the life of the Prophet, plus attention to other scholars’ grappling with the same. Which means the moral and social judgements of Islam are grounded in the notion that the peak of human understanding of social order was reached in C7th Arabia: a society of slavery, raiding and conquest. Again, there is no equivalent in Christianity: while the Gospels may represent the peak of moral behaviour, no Christian is going to think that the C1st Roman Empire reached the peak of social understanding, as the most significant-in-Christian-terms it did was to crucify Christ. These differences go “all the way down”, as Christianity is a religion of individual salvation, whereas is Islam about building a righteous community, correct participation in which is the path to Paradise.

All of which also means that the further modernity moves away from C7th Arabia (in every dimension, social and technological) the greater the tension with Islam-derived moral sensibilities and framings. Hence modernity creates a deep problem for Islam in a way that has no equivalent for any other civilisation. Hence the temper tantrum with serious homicidal edge that Islam is having with modernity.

Made worse by the fact that many folk of Muslim heritage have no particular problem with many aspects of modernity: it is no accident that most of the victims of the jihadis have been fellow Muslims–they are both the closest targets and those whose compromising “treachery” from their obligations to follow the laws of Allah (as defined by the jihadis: which is very much contested within Islam) is most egregious.

Zealots rather than radicals

There is also a problem with the language of “radicalisation”, as the jihadis have very little in common with the radicals of any Western tradition. They are far more like the religious “enthusiasts” of the C16th and C17th that C18th Enlightenment folk so strongly reacted against. They have even more in common with the original Jewish Zealots: true believers homicidally enraged that human law is permitted to trump God’s law and whose murderous ire falls particularly intensely on “wickedly compromising” fellow believers. As Australian political scientist David Martin Jones puts it:

Rather than being radicalised, young Western Muslims are attracted to what a more religious age than our own recognised as enthusiasm, zealotry or fanaticism.

… any analysis of jihadism’s self-confirming zealotry suggests that those labelled “radicalised” are not really radicals at all. Ideological radicalism, properly understood, requires a clear break from traditional religion, of whatever form, in order to achieve a pluralist, secular modernity.

By contrast, a scriptural literalism based on the message of the Prophet Mohammad and the hadith of his rightly guided seventh-century successors, the Rashidun, fuels Islamic State’s thought and practice. They look to past models purified by purificatory violence today to build tomorrow’s religious utopia. … Today’s jihadi is an enthusiast as defined by the Oxford Shorter English Dictionary, namely, one who is “possessed by a god” or in “receipt of divine communication”. No matter how deluded their actions appear to modern secular sensibilities, in their minds they are directly engaged in a divine mission to re-create the caliphate.

The revelation gap

The jihadis are the most dramatic manifestation of the tension between Islam and modernity, yet they are far from the only manifestation thereof. The grounding of morality so thoroughly in revelation creates a profound gulf between believers and non-believers; between those who accept the revelations which are the only true grounding of moral judgement and those who do not. This is the basis of an Islamic supremacism or triumphalism that has seeped into the moral sensibilities of Muslims over the centuries. It is why, for example, there is so much persecution of religious minorities across the Muslim world; persecution which follows recurring patterns.

Attitudes that do not magically disappear simply by migrating to the West. Particularly when migration to the West cuts people off from the various evolved mechanisms for softening the harsher elements of Islam. One woman of Muslim heritage, doctor Suraiya Simi Rahman, expresses that quite vividly:

What in the world were we doing? We were training our children to kowtow without questioning an authority that we believed would keep them safe from evil western ways. And so the community’s children went to Sunday school, wore hijab, prayed and fasted. They were enveloped in a Muslim identity that was unlike any that I had experienced before.

I was raised in a Muslim country in the Middle East and religion was something we kept in its place, somewhere after school, soccer and cartoons. Here was a more distilled, pure and, most dangerously, a context-free Islam. There were no grandmothers here to sagely tell us which parts of the Quran to turn a blind eye to. There were no older cousins here who skipped Friday prayers and goofed off with their friends instead. Oh no. This was Islam simmered in a sauce of Midwestern sincerity, and boiled down to its dark, concentrated core. This was dangerous.

This centring of all moral judgement in revelation, reducing the role of reason to supporting revelation, creates huge dilemmas. Suraiya Simi Rahman experienced that also:

I attended ISNA [Islamic Society of North America] gatherings, met with educated, professional people like myself who were also asking the same questions. They were looking to their faith for answers. And sure, there were efforts made to modernize Islam, but they were only superficial. We couldn’t do it. We couldn’t do it because there is a logical dilemma at the core of Islam. And that is, that the Quran is the last word of God, that it is perfect and unchangeable. And to even suggest such a thing is blasphemy and apostasy.

And so, to understand the moderate mind, you have to envision it on a continuum from radical to middle, but the closer you get to liberal, there is a wall. It creeps up on you, in the condemnation of homosexuality, in the unequal treatment and subjugation of women, but it’s there. Beyond that wall that they are afraid to look over, for fear of eternal hell fire and damnation, is where the answer lies though. So being a Muslim moderate these days is like running a race with a ball and chain attached to your feet. A handicap. Unless you can imagine what the world beyond that wall looks like, you can’t really navigate it. If you’re so terrified of blasphemy that you refuse to look over, you’re forever stuck. Right here. And behind you is the jihadi horde, laying claim to real Islam, practicing it to perfection, as it is laid out in the Quran. A veritable rock and a hard place.

The combination of Sharia as a civilisational legal system that does not need a state to enforce it, yet claims trumping authority over any mere human law, along with deeply embedded attitudes of Islamic supremacism, generate potential enclave problems which have no parallel for any other migrant group. Hence reports from current and former UK police officers about Islamified areas where police operations are significantly inhibited; areas which have parallels in FranceSweden and Belgium.

The US and Australia are unlikely to experience similar problems because their Muslim minorities are less than 2% of the population: at that level, it is rational for Muslim communities to cooperate with local security forces. There are still the problem of “lone wolf” attacks, as there is significant jihadi social media activity aimed as recruiting and grooming such. But, as the US in particular already has a home-grown mass shooter problem, that is a comparatively minor law-and-order issue.

Once Muslim minorities start heading towards 10% of the population, then enclave problems are much more likely to develop and cooperation with security forces is likely to be much patchier and resistance to the agents of the state is likely to develop. Accepting a Muslim minority of that sort of size is also, effectively, a decision to export one’s Jews.

Significant Muslim migration is also somewhat distressing for Middle Eastern Christian migrants, who came to the West to escape Muslim persecution and find their persecutors following them; in the case of the current refugees waves into Europe, quite literally, as there has seen a series of anti-Christian incidents by Muslim refugees, including two cases of mass drownings at sea. (There has also been a series of comments by folk from religious minorities of now Muslim majority countries of the “you will be sorry” variety.) Muslim (male) migrants are also the only migrants with any tendency to become less integrated in their host society over time.

The notion that there are no issues specific to Muslim migration is nonsense on stilts. Of course there are: it is very different, religiously-defined civilisation with very different presumptions and framings. Yelling “racism” does not change that, although it does close down debate: so is precisely the sort of shouting polarising that is not in any way helpful.

No, it is not merely a matter of Islamic doctrine, though that has plenty of problematic aspects. It is also the effects of centuries (indeed, over a millennium) of Islamic doctrine, ritual and teaching on the moral sensibilities and framings, the cosmological outlook, of Muslims, of people of Muslim heritage: the notion that their religious identity is at once terribly important to people of Muslim heritage yet has no problematic content is nonsense–it is turning people into abstractions for moral points-scoring between Westerners.

As the experiences of Europe in its various difficulties with Muslim migrants and migrant communities demonstrate, you cannot just wish that heritage away and shouting at people because you don’t wish it to be so may be satisfyingly childish but does not change anything except to make the development of intelligent, well-grounded responses that much harder and leave far more ground for political entrepreneurs to garner support from frustrated, concerned and angry voters left with nowhere else to go.


[Cross-posted from Thinking Out Aloud.]

So, you want to reduce inequality … (some modest, and some practical, proposals)

By Lorenzo

Concern over rising inequality has certainly been a significant feature of recent intellectual and political discourse, particularly in the US (for example here). Let us suppose we were serious about reducing inequality, what would we do?

One thing you would not do is significantly raise top income tax rates, that would not have much effect at all. Besides, at a certain point, one runs into significant Laffer Curve effects, which is why income tax rates have remained much lower across the Western world than they were in the immediate postwar decades–governments don’t want to reduce their revenue by having tax rates too high.

Since folk who worry about inequality tend to be nostalgic for the low-inequality postwar era up to around 1970, we an easily identify a range of policies which will reduce income inequality.

(1) Massively cut back on higher education. Since higher education generates low income students in their 20s who tend to become high income professionals in their 40s, the higher the use of higher education, the greater is life cycle inequality. Also, since higher education is more expensive than primary or secondary education, and with very few positive social spillover effects (though we can identify some negative spillover effects), government support for higher education tends to be subsidising those with higher future incomes. Moreover, the higher the level of education, the higher the gap between male and female earnings and, the higher level of education, the more differentiated by ethnicity incomes are.

(2) Reverse female participation in the workforce. Surging female labour force participation reduces the scarcity of labour compared to capital, putting downward pressure on labour incomes. Moreover, high income men marrying high income women and low income men marrying low income women greatly increases household inequality. As econblogger Arnold Kling noted recently:

the period of the 1970s was a transition from marriage as production complementarity (I’ll bring home the bacon, you fry it) to consumption complementarity (let’s make sure that our leisure interests coincide). This form of marriage turns out to be much more class-selective.

Putting women back in the home would reduce household income inequality significantly while the increased general labour scarcity premium would make it easier to support families on a single income.

(3) Massively cut back on immigration except for those with high levels of compatible human and social capital. As Sweden is finding, immigration can be a great generator of income inequality. Importing low skill migrants reduces the return to labour, especially amongst low skill residents (pdf), and, as increasing the median return to labour is central to reducing income inequality, any immigration that decreases labour scarcity will tend to increase income inequality.

(4) Abolish residential zoning. Housing capital is a major source of wealth, and residential zoning increases the scarcity of land available for housing, driving up housing costs. Low rents and cheap housing reduces income inequality.

(5) Eliminate occupational licensing. Occupational licensing increases labour scarcity in a very selective (and unequal) way. Indeed, a lot of regulatory approval systems have very unequal effects on income prospects.

(6) More mass conscription wars. The broader the section of the population needed to fight, the higher the incentive to engage in broad social bargaining and the easier such bargaining becomes through a sense of urgent common purpose. Of course, there has to be that sense of urgent common purpose for the effect to operate, otherwise one just gets increased internal social division, which is not good for income inequality.

Econblogger Scott Sumner has some suggestions which overlap with mine (though he is not about invoking Jonathan Swift, unlike some of my above suggestions):

My preference would be to address the inequality issue in four ways:

1. Have a lower proportion of low skilled immigrants and a higher percentage of high skilled immigrants—there are plenty in India and China who wish to come here, but also more than you might expect from Africa, the Middle East and Latin America.

2. Weaken intellectual property rights. I don’t favor eliminating them, but I’d prefer to keep them only for entirely new inventions, not improvements of existing products. Copyrights need to be made much shorter.

3. Change zoning laws to encourage more building. This will be really hard to do; indeed I think things are likely to get worse, not better.

4. Replace income taxes with progressive consumption taxes and low wage subsidies. Eliminate cigarette taxes. Legalize drugs.

All sensible and worthy proposals.


In reality, those most inclined to complain about income inequality would be those who would be outraged by any attempt to implement any of the above policy agenda(s). Yet their preferred agenda of increased tax-and-spend would be very unlikely to have any equivalent effect.

First, it requires even more urgent attention to economic efficiency to pay for the increased government activity (which is why the Scandinavian states tend to rate so high on economic freedom), which tends to be antipathetic to income-flattening agendas. While wholesale adoption of the full Scandinavian package in geographically and ethnically diverse societies such as the US or Australia has other problems and is not likely to have the intended effect.

Second, a tax-and-spend agenda is precisely what has driven California into becoming ever more unequal in income, as the middle are driven out by high taxes and regulatory complexity and the welfare dependant are attracted by high spending.


Russian-American population biologist Peter Turchin has developed a sophisticated analysis of swings in equality and inequality based on levels of cooperation and inter-elite competition which he has applied to US history in particular (see here for a Salon article on the same). The model very much has a “good swings and bad swings” approach, where increasing cooperation and falling inequality are good and the decreasing cooperation and rising inequality are bad. So, the shift towards less income equality and less cooperation Turchin identifies as happening from the 1970s on is bad. Which naturally leads to dismissing of the entire shift in Western policy since the 1970s as a mistake.

If we take a more nuanced view of social phenomenon, we might wonder if broad movements in public policy might always be at least somewhat mixed in their characteristics. Particularly in democratic polities, where policies are subject to scrutiny and debate.

The 1970s were not a good period for Western public policy. Productivity growth fell (for reasons which are still unclear) and stagflation blighted economies. The shift towards economic liberalisation occurred for good reasons and has a broad range of clear successes. The connection between economic freedom and prosperity is very clear, empirically.

To characterise the shift in public policy as an attempt to wind back the welfare state is to characterise it as a clear failure–there was very little reduction in welfare spending or coverage. It is much more sensibly seen as policy coalitions attempting to create a sustainable welfare state (i.e. enough economic growth and efficiency to support welfare spending): at which it has been rather more successful. Particularly during the Great Moderation.

Per capita GDP and World Bank indicator of ease of doing business.

It is also important not to exaggerate how much economic liberalisation there has been. Governments are much less likely to own firms and have become much less likely to regulate quantities (except in land and taxi markets) or regulate prices (except in labour markets). But the wider regulatory burden has continued to increase (pdf); a cost which falls disproportionately on new businesses, small and medium-size businesses and other economic entrants.

Casualisation of employment is often seen as a negative development. But if more and more regulatory (and contract) complexity is loaded onto full-time employment, alternative means of employment become more attractive (for both employers and workers). Casualisation is often an indicator of the level of labour market regulation.

Then one gets interaction effects. Increased regulatory complexity increases economic rents (income not based on productive activity). Yet casualisation makes it harder for workers to capture such economic rents, which may help shift incomes within firms from labour to capital.

What has undoubtedly intensified are the culture wars. Which is the other problem with focusing on specifically income inequality; as the period since the 1970s has also seen very significant social liberalisation. Building on the 1960s ferment to be sure, but going considerably further. Whatever the virtues of that social liberalisation, it is likely harder to garner social cooperation when basic assumptions about the framework of cooperation fray–even more if they fray for very understandable reasons.

It is also analytically dubious to concentrate quite so much on the US. EU politics, for example, are showing much more signs of voter distress, anger and alienation. And doing so in countries whose economies are (generally) rather more regulated than the US economy.

The folk not in the room

Academics, journalists and IT professionals have become very narrow in their ideological range which also shows up in their pattern of political donations. This gravely handicaps their ability to promote broad social bargaining and cooperation. In fact, it tends strongly to have the opposite effect–to preach and alienate; to comprehensively not understand the concerns of people with views they almost never socialise with or have to grapple with seriously.

US political donations by industry.

Moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt‘s attempt to foster intellectual diversity in the US academy is a much more hopeful attempt to increase social cooperation than buying into “the entire shift in global shift in policy since 1970s, it’s all bad!”. Particularly given that very same global shift has seen the most massive exit from mass poverty in human history.

US Academic political donations.

Broad trends in public policy, particularly in democratic polities, likely have strengths and weaknesses. Over time, the strengths can get exhausted and the weaknesses multiply. Which tends leads to a swing in a different direction, where the same thing happens. And so it goes.

Conversely, an ideologically narrow academy is very naturally inclined to see public policy trends as “bad” or “good” and point to folk not in any of their rooms and say “it’s all their fault”. Nor is merely being cross-disciplinary going to fix the problem, if it is essentially the same ideological range repeating itself across disciplines.

And yes, the US Republican Party is having a bit of a meltdown; but both US Parties have become more ideological. While conservatives in the US have been on the losing side of a series of cultural battles and, in public policy, what wins have conservative Republicans had since welfare reform after the 1994 midterm elections? If the answer is “not much”, then their anger and alienation become much more understandable.

Especially given the cultural assault goes on–attempts to control speechclothing, regulate leisure activities, attacking careers, reputations and livelihoods, and so on. After all, basic to Turchin’s theory is over-production of elites, and an excess of over-credentialed (and under-educated) university graduates is very much part of that–and given the ideological narrowness of the modern academy–their frustrations can obviously drive a highly socially combative approach. [A central difficulty with how Turchin applies his demographic analysis to the contemporary US–and, by extension, other Western democracies–is that he presumes that the corporate/business elite is “the” elite when modern mixed economies also have a public-sector/nonprofit nomenklatura who are in a much better position to systematically block social cooperation by stigmatising alternative perspectives and concerns.]

Social cooperation means precisely that, cooperation. It does not mean “you are evil, malicious and wrongheaded unless you agree with us”: demanding surrender is not cooperating. Buying into “those folk over there, they’re all wrong” is not fostering cooperation. No matter how sophisticated your underlying analysis.

ADDENDA The age-cohort demographics are also not helpful to reducing inequality.

AND ALSO  Paul Graham has a useful essay on economic inequality and another on why 1945-1973 was so different to what followed.  Dean Baker examines economic rents as a factor in increased income inequality.

[Cross-posted from Thinking Out Aloud.]

Why gold/currency ratios mattered in the interwar period

By Lorenzo

This is based on a comment I made here.

I have been enjoying Scott Sumner‘s history of the Great Depression, The Midas Paradox: Financial Markets, Government Policy Shocks, and the Great Depression. Sumner provides a key ideas summary for the book here. The book is an examination of dramatic macroeconomic instability under a gold standard.

In The Midas Paradox, Sumner gives the gold/currency ratio (the ratio of gold reserve to currency) central place in his analysis.

A gold standard sets a value in gold to the unit of account, making gold the medium of account. So, no matter how many (for instance) currency dollars are in circulation, the value of gold sets their value. If gold rises in value (relative to output of goods and services, hereafter just output), the value of money rises relative to a given level of output (so there is deflation or a falling price level). If gold falls in value (relative to output), the value of money falls relative to a given level of output (so there is inflation or a rising price level).

Hence prominent interwar Swedish monetary economist Gustav Cassel‘s post-WWI concern about the future path of gold supply not keeping up with the future path of output, for if output growth systematically outstripped gold production, that would systematically raise the output-value of gold, having a deflationary effect, i.e. driving down the price level, driving down expenditure, and so incomes, and increasing the burden of debts.

For deflation comes in three varieties; the good (falling prices due to increased productivity, such as in the IT industry), the bad (a fall in spending, relative to output, pushing down incomes, and raising debt burdens) and the ugly (such sharp shifts to holding money that expenditure collapses, so do incomes, massively increasing debt burdens, leading to a surge in bankruptcies and bad debts and so to financial crisis).

Insufficient gold production turned out not to be a problem and, while fluctuations in the relative paths of gold and output did produce inflationary and deflationary swings in the C19th, they were relatively minor. Indeed, the upsurge in demand for gold from the French/German/US switch to the gold standard in the 1870s was more important. (The French/German switch is discussed here [pdf], the US switch here [pdf].) Over the course of the C19th, the inflationary and deflationary swings from shifts in the relative path of output and gold production cancelled out.

Hard money man on horseback.

So, while the currency in circulation can fluctuate according to the “needs of trade”, gold provides the anchor for the output-value of money. (Hence, the plausibility of the “real bills” doctrine.)

Why would the gold/currency ratio matter?

(1) The plausibility of the gold-peg. If currency in circulation becomes sufficiently large that the guarantee to redeem in gold is in doubt, that could be seriously de-stabilising. Hence the gold standard constrains currency issue, hence states abandon the gold standard when they go to war. (Unless you are Napoleon; an autocrat who does not want to invoke recent dire memories of French Revolutionary hyperinflation, so you run a strict bullion–gold & silver–standard financed by looting Europe while your Parliamentary opponent–the UK–goes off the gold standard for the duration because it does not have the same credibility problems.)

(2) The output-value of gold. Having more gold in the vaults than is needed to ensure the plausibility of the peg tends to raise the value of gold relative to a given level output. And the more so, the more so. Since the central banks so dominated gold holdings in the interwar period, they dominated the output-price of gold, with the gold/currency ratio being an indicator of their “gold stance”. A factor enhanced if private folk began to also hoard gold.

Scott Sumner responded to my original description in the comment section of his blog, and the question whether it was a fair description, as follows:

Yes, central banks had a big effect on the real demand for gold, and hence the value of gold. They held a large proportion of all gold mined since the beginning of time (I think over 50%.) The real demand for gold is equal to the gold ratio times the real demand for currency. So if the public’s real demand for currency is stable, and the gold ratio rises by 9%, then the real demand for gold rises by 9%. This reduces the global price level by 9%, ceteris paribus. It’s roughly what happened between October 1929 and October 1930. After that, big rises in the real demand for currency created a higher derived demand for gold.

Which pushed the gold-standard price level down further.

Wikipedia tells us that:

The real demand for money is defined as the nominal [face value] amount of money demanded divided by the price level.

In other words, real demand is demand in terms of output, as the nominal value of total production is output x the price level, so dividing the money value of production by the price level leaves us with output. This is what statistical authorities such as the ABS do to calculate real GDP and so economic growth.  They assemble statistics on money value of production and use various price deflators to calculate shifts in actual output of goods and services.

In The Midas Paradox, Scott Sumner uses as simple model to analyse the operations of the gold standard. The nominal value of the gold stock (Gs) = the Price level (P) x the real demand for monetary gold (g).

Gs = Pg

Since, if you divide by prices, you are left with output or output-value.

Re-arranging that,

P = Gs/g

So, as Sumner points out, under a gold standard, monetary policy mainly operates through the demand side, not the supply of currency. Real demand for monetary gold (g) can be segmented into the gold reserve ratio (r)–the ratio of gold reserves to currency–and the real demand for currency (md). Giving us,

P = Gs x (1/r) x (1/md)

To quote from The Midas Paradox:

an increase in the price level [P] can be generated by one of three factors: an increase in the monetary gold stock, a decrease in the gold reserve ratio, and/or a decrease in the real demand for currency. The rate of inflation [i.e. rate of change of P] is the percentage increase in the gold stock [Gs], minus the percentage increase in the gold reserve ratio [r], minus the percentage increase in the real demand for currency [md]. At this level of abstraction the term “gold standard” simply refers to a monetary regime where the nominal price of gold is fixed. As long as the nominal price of gold is constant and the real value of gold is set in free [i.e. competitive] markets, then we can apply the gold standard model without making any further assumptions about policymakers following “the rules of the game”; that is, we do not need to assume a stable gold reserve ratio, or in fact any relationship between the monetary gold stock and the currency stock (Pp28-9).

Which does simply analysis greatly. So the model Sumner provides does what good models are supposed to do–make analysis of the phenomenon more tractable.

As central to having a gold standard is to create a stable value for money–and so a stable price level–by setting a gold value to the unit of account, shifts in the price level will reflect directly shifts in the output-value of gold. In his specific response to my original comment, Sumner is being more explicit about the mechanics and invoking the above equations and explanations from The Midas Paradox.

Chart courtesy of Marcus Nunes.

In The Midas Paradox, Scott Sumner elucidates the central story of the Great Depression as it has been developing in the economic literature. That is, a story of disastrous central bank monetary policies, particularly by the Federal Reserve (the Fed) and the Bank of France. In the case of the US, FDR actually pulled the US out of the Depression with his unconventional monetary policy and then put the US right back into economic stagnation with his National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA), a strong negative supply-side policy shock to the economy. When the US Supreme Court struck down NIRA as unconstitutional, economic recovery picked up again, until further destructive monetary policies (pdf) created the severe 1937-38 downturn.

So, it was all about bad public policy, not some inherent problems with capitalism or market economies. And in The Midas Paradox, Scott Sumner takes us through the twists and turns of that.


[Cross-posted from Thinking Out Aloud.]

Black boxes, the rectification of names and the revival of slavery

By Lorenzo

The Chinese sage Kong Qiu (551-479 BC) (Kongzi “Master Kong”), known to the West as Confucius–which is derived from Kong Fuzi “Grand Master Kong”–had a doctrine Zhèngmíng, normally translated as “rectification of names“. There is a straightforward statement of the doctrine in the Analects:

A superior man, in regard to what he does not know, shows a cautious reserve. If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things. If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success. When affairs cannot be carried on to success, proprieties and music do not flourish. When proprieties and music do not flourish, punishments will not be properly awarded. When punishments are not properly awarded, the people do not know how to move hand or foot. Therefore a superior man considers it necessary that the names he uses may be spoken appropriately, and also that what he speaks may be carried out appropriately. What the superior man requires is just that in his words there may be nothing incorrect. (Book XIII, Chapter 3, verses 4-7).

Even without the current progressivist penchant to police language, there is a problem applying clear and correct naming to matters Islamic because the term Islam can apply both to a religion (submission to Allah) and a civilisation. Where we can talk of Christianity (the religion) and Christendom (the civilisation or Christian territories), there is no similar linguistic distinction available in English, despite attempts to use Islamdom and Islamicate to make a similar clear distinction between Islam the religion and Islam the civilisation.

Islam, Muslim and linguistic ambiguity

There is a similar problem with Muslim: do we mean a follower of Islam or someone raised in the civilisation of Islam? This is not a small point; the tendency to treat Muslims as if their religious identity is automatically central to their sense of identity is a besetting sin of much commentary and even public policy. It is not something that either commentary or public policy is likely to do with Jew or Christian. While Westerner essentially implies no religious identity at all, except an increasingly weak association with Christian origins. Even the coinage Judaeo-Christian is a manifestation of weakening religious associations, given the historically antagonistic identities it jumbles together. Western civilisation has, after all, pagan Graeco-Roman roots and pagan Germanic roots as well as Judaeo-Christian ones. Moreover, religious conservatives in the West have been losing cultural batters for many decades now, hence the gulf on matters regarding sex and gender which has opened up between the West and Islam.

Person of Muslim heritage is often a preferable usage to Muslim, but is inherently more linguistically cumbersome. As feminists, secularists and humanists of Muslim heritage regularly point out, treating religion as the central feature of Muslim identity plays into the hands of the most conservative elements in Muslim communities, and Islam, and even more into the hands of Salafists and Islamists, who most definitely want to insist on the centrality of religious identity, and a religious identity they wish to be able to define (or, indeed, redefine via “purification”).

Black boxing the inconvenient

Along with these elementary difficulties of linguistic usage, there is also the “black box” problem. It is a feature of ideological perspectives that they generate “black boxes”; areas of human experience which are either not opened up and considered seriously in their own terms or are considered only in superficial and convenient ways. So Western conservatives will typically not open up the “black box” of queer experience, because that will reveal perfectly ordinary folk who have been systematically treated like crap for no good reason. Failing to look seriously into the “black box” of queer experience does not remotely stop such conservatives from commenting freely and passionately about such matters. Indeed, it makes it so much easier to do so, because then said matters can be construed to fit in with congenial framings without awkward reality getting in the way.

Hence the way ideology generates “black boxes”. Thus, it is so much easier to comment passionately yet conventionally on the Palestine-Israel conflict if one does not look under the “black box” of Palestinian politics. It is so much easier to comment on current events if one does not look under the “black box” of Islam and Islamic history (including contemporary persecution of Christians in Muslim-majority countries) or the “black boxes” of Islamism or the Salafi or Deobandi movements. Hence the tendency of the “contentless identity” whereby religious identity is assumed to be central to the self-understanding of Muslims (/people of Muslim heritage) yet it is somehow illegitimate to inquire critically into Islamic doctrine or patterns or to consider them as having any awkward implications.

If, for example, one is going to seriously comment on matters Islamic, one really should do all the following:

  • Read the Quran.
  • Acquaint oneself with a collection of hadiths. (These are available online, for example here and particularly here.)
  • Read a biography of Muhammad by a believer (such as Tariq Ramadan, The Messenger), so one gets a sense of the role of Muhammad “from the inside”.
  • Read a comprehensive history of Islam (such as Ira Lapidus, A History of Islamic Societies).

Clearly, it would be preferable to expand one’s reading beyond that, with various scholarly articles and useful texts. There are also useful online sources, such as the blog Ballandus (a particularly useful source) while economist David Friedman (who teaches in a law faculty) provides an excellent introduction to Sharia. Islam is a genuinely distinctive civilisation, with distinctive patterns and underlying presumptions, and it is necessary to inform oneself of said distinctive patterns and underlying presumptions before one can comment usefully (rather than propagandistically).

Alas, lots of folk comment quite passionately on matters Islamic and Muslim without bothering to do any of the above. (Yes, I have done all the above.)

But refusing to look under the “black box” of Islam then makes it so much easier to construe events and issues according to whatever framing one finds congenial. Indeed, the more passionately one is attached to one’s framing, the more that is so.

“Black boxing” also means it becomes so much easier to use morality and moral claims as a club to denigrate and dismiss dissent (no matter how much better informed such dissent may be; in some ways the more so the more such dissent is genuinely informed). Which so adds to the attraction of “black boxing” the potentially awkward.

Similarly, if one is going to comment on Islamism, Salafism and Deobandi (encompassing what is often labelled radical Islam), one should acquaint oneself with a sample of such writings. Sayyid Qutb‘s Milestones (aka Signposts) is a classic Islamist text, but there are plenty of other sources, such as the jihadi strategic “how-to manual” The Management of Savagery (available here [pdf]).

One needs also be aware the Salafism, for example, comes in various flavours which overlap with (say) Saudi Wahhabism but are not identical (pdf) and which includes a “quietist” tradition that is quite hostile (pdf) to Islamism (especially its takfiri tendencies) and its prioritisation of political engagement. While Islamism–in the general sense of political Islam–has Salafist versions.

Civilisational crisis

Political scientist Samuel Huntingdon’s famous “Clash of Civilizations” thesis, launched originally in a 1993 essay (pdf) in the magazine Foreign Affairs, was correct in identifying that Islam “has bloody borders” (and it continues to do so). But his wider thesis simply has not come to fruition; partly because cultural affinity making deeper forms of cooperation easier has turned out to be quite asymmetrical in its implications–it does not have anywhere near an equivalent effect in configuring conflict. With a conspicuous exception, the international order continues to be a state order with major and minor states interacting in terms of their interests and perceptions, which are not usefully “civilisational”. To take an obvious example, that Vietnam and China are civilisationally similar does not change a recurring constant of Vietnamese policy–to stay out of China’s control or domination. Nor does civilisational affinity draw Ukraine and Russia together. On the contrary, it drives Putin’s Russia to prey on Ukraine to stop it becoming a disturbing counter-example.

The conspicuous exception is Islam, where we are witnessing a conflict that is as much about breaking states as it is about state power. The phenomena of Islamist authoritarianism, of Salafist jihadism (and Deobandi jihadism) are, in a sense, a violent temper tantrum from within the civilisation of Islam against modernity (one historian Bernard Lewis noted 25 years ago in his 1990 essay The Roots of Muslim Rage); a temper tantrum that no other civilisation is coming close to manifesting any equivalent of. Either in its heartland or in any diaspora.

Even so, plenty of Muslims are just fine with modernity, both individually and collectively. Which, in fact, does much to drive the homicidal temper tantrum by those who are not fine with modernity. Those within Islam who are reacting with violent hostility to the social trends of modernity are particularly horrified and enraged that their fellow Muslims (/people of Muslim heritage) seem all too willing to go along for the ride. It is no accident that the victims of radical Islam in recent decades are overwhelmingly fellow Muslims (/people of Muslim heritage)–though a little less overwhelmingly than folk sometimes acknowledge, given the persistent persecution of (particularly) Christian minorities in majority-Muslim societies. Though said persecution is, in part, also a symptom of the wider religious revival within Islam that radical Islam is the “pointy end” of.

The eruptions into the West of this homicidal temper tantrum are just that–extensions into the West of programs of assassination and massacre than have been going on within Islam for decades. While the current round of massacre of religious minorities in the Middle East is a upswing of a pattern that extends back to the Hamidian massacres of the 1890s, through the ArmenianAssyrian and Pontic-Greek genocides into various interwar massacres and down to contemporary events.

Again, there are complexities: the reasons that jihadis find recruits within Iraq and Syria, for example, have continuities with why any insurgency is able to recruit–such as deep alienation from the state ruling them. (Which, given the closer one is to the Islamic State the more unfavourable the view has to be pretty powerful alienation.) The structure of the particular insurgency project they are recruited for, however, is always more specific.

Slavery, Sharia and polygyny

As it turns out, the explicit revival of slavery in the Islamic State, and the earlier, more surreptitious, revival of slavery in Islamist Sudan, provides a revealing case study of the connection between traditional Islamic jurisprudence, patterns within historical Islam and contemporary Islamic “purifying” revivalism.

Islam is a polygynous civilisation because it is a religiously defined civilisation and Sharia allows polygyny–a male believer can legally have up to four wives. As Sharia is central to so many of the patterns of Islamic history (leading to various historical patterns), it is important to understand that religious law is not a good translation of what Sharia entails or implies. David Friedman’s excellent introductory paragraph to the aforementioned chapter on Sharia sets out the matter clearly:

The first and most important thing to realize about Islamic law is that, seen in its own terms, it is the law of God not of man. No society, now or in the past, could enforce Shari’a, because no human had complete and correct knowledge of its content. Strictly speaking, what traditional Islamic courts enforced was not Shari’a, God’s law, but fiqh, jurisprudence, the imperfect human attempt to deduce from religious sources what the law ought to be. That fact helps explain how Sunni Islam was able to maintain four different but mutually orthodox schools of law. There could be only one correct answer to what God wanted humans to do, but there could be more than one reasonable guess. According to a widely accepted tradition, a Mujtahid, a legal scholar deducing the law from the Koran and the traditions of what Mohammed did and said, got one reward in heaven if he got it wrong, two if he got it right.

The key point here is law of God not of manSharia is the law of Allah, the Sovereign of the Universe. As such it covers everyone, as we are all subject to Allah’s sovereignty. Hence it seems perfectly reasonable in contemporary Islamic states to make apostasy (and blasphemy) a crime, even a capital crime. Something that the weakening of religious identity in the West has either long seen abolished or reduced (in the case of blasphemy) to a lingering dead letter.

Sharia absolutely claims to legislate for non-believers, in a most emphatic way, and has always done so. To paraphrase the aphorism commonly attributed to Trotsky, you may not be interested in Sharia, but Sharia is interested in you.

So, when jihadis kill Westerners for insulting the Prophet, they see themselves as applying Sharia to people who are already under its ambit. In terms of Sharia jurisprudence, non-believers who submit to Muslim rule are thereby acknowledging that they are under Sharia rule, but they are not changing whether Sharia properly applies to them, only how it does so.

The Islamists in particular are very specific on the rightful ambit of Sharia. In the words of Sayyid Qutb:

The defeatists should fear Allaah lest they distort this religion and cause it to become weak on the basis of the claim that it is a religion of peace. Yes, it is the religion of peace but in the sense of saving all of mankind from worshipping anything other than Allaah and submitting all of mankind to the rule of Allaah. This is the religion of Allaah, not the ideas of any person or the product of human thought, so that those who promote it should feel ashamed to state its ultimate goal, which is that all religion (worship) should be for Allaah alone. When the ideas that people follow are all produced by human beings and the systems and laws that control their lives are all made up by human beings, then in this case each idea and each system has the right to live safely within its own borders so long as it does not transgress the borders of others, so the various ideas and laws can co-exist and not try to destroy one another. But when there is a divine system and law, and alongside it there are human systems and laws, then the matter is fundamentally different, and the divine law has the right to remove the barriers and free people from enslavement to human beings …

The term religion of peace means something quite different to Islamists (and jihadis in general) than what Westerners might understand it to mean.

That Islam really is a distinctive civilisation, with distinctive underlying presumptions and patterns, is crucial. In particular, the defeat of Aristotelianism in medieval Islam with the triumph of al-Ghazali had some profound consequences. One of which is that it became firmly established in mainstream Islam that there was no moral realm beyond revelation. In Christianity and Judaism, God does things because He is good. In Islam, things are good because God does them. Sharia, as the laws of God, become the moral realm. A viewpoint that Islamism, Salafism and Deobandi all very much adhere to but still has powerful resonance in Islam more generally, intensified by the ongoing Islamic religious revival. Islamic states are the only states which felt motivated to issue their own version (1990) of the UN Declaration of Human Rights (1948); and their Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam is very much about Sharia being moral trumps. It makes it harder in Islamic societies than for post-Enlightenment Western societies to move away from legislatively imposing religious doctrine (and the latter have found it hard enough).

Sharia is a civilisational legal system: it does not require a state to operate it. Indeed, until the later C19th, typically the most significant role of any Islamic state in the legal system was to appoint the qadi, the judges who made their rulings by applying the evidence of the case to rulings (fatwas) by religious scholars. (The Ottoman state was a partial exception.) One of the roles of Sufi orders (tariqa) was to provide legal services in non-state settings, such as among pastoralists.

The nature of Sharia as civilisational law that does not require a state to operate is why Muslim immigration can pose a distinctive enclave problem, as there is a ready-to-use structure of law which can be used in opposition to the law of the local state and which claims trumping legitimacy over said law.

That trumping legitimacy is central to a network of interlocking ideas which can be characterised as Islamic supremacism; that adherence to Islam, being of Islam, puts one in a morally superior position to anyone who is not so, a superiority which is manifested in any “proper” social order. A Hamas leader angrily denying that the West has any right to preach to Hamas because it gives rights to homosexuals is a manifestation of this. The aforementioned ongoing pattern of massacres represents Muslims becoming homicidally enraged at the idea that non-believers could be the equals (particularly the legal and political equals) of believers: the cosmopolitan equality which is a clear and powerful tendency within modernity offers the insult of equality to the assumed, and deeply embedded, pattern of believer superiority.

After all, if revelation is the moral realm, of course those who adhere to the path of revelation are morally superior to those who do not. And even without necessarily adhering completely to the whole doctrinal package, a perspective is engendered that seeps into habitual, ingrained patterns of thought. Hence the persistent persecution of religious minorities in Muslim-majority countries.

The implications pervade, and lie under, so much of the dynamics of Middle Eastern politics. While the founder of the Palestinian national movement, Haj Amin al-Husseini, may have adopted a virulent version of Jew hatred partly (but only partly) based on imported European conceptions (remembering that Islam encompassed heartland genocide decades before the Holocaust), the underlying refusal of most Palestinians to seriously contemplate acceptance of Israel is profoundly based on the embedded assumptions of Islamic supremacism (hence the “right of return“), making any peace treaty impossible. Meanwhile, the response of the Swedish foreign minister to the Paris attacks (referring to the “desperate situation” of the Palestinians) shows just how Pavlovian “black boxing” “blame the Jews Israel” has become. A response that was offensively ignorant, given Islamic State forces specifically attacked the Yarmouk camp.

There is a further implication which follows from the nature of Sharia. David Friedman describes how fiqh, Islamic jurisprudence, operates:

The scholar started with the sources of revealed knowledge—the Koran and the words and acts of Mohammed and his companions as reported in hadith, traditions. From that information a sufficiently learned religious scholar, a mujtahid, deduced legal rules. Over time, the scholars separated into four schools, each consisting of multiple generations building on the work of its predecessors, each identified with the name of a particularly distinguished scholar thought of as its founder. The schools were generally similar but differed in the details of their approaches to interpretation and the rules they deduced; each regarded the others as orthodox.

The implication of which is that the definitive source for understanding the normative principles of social order is C7th Arabia. A social order that included slavery and raiding.

The dynamics of polygyny

Polygyny itself engenders persistent patterns. Sharia may permit up to 4 wives, but obviously, not every male believer can have more than one wife. Indeed, the dynamics of polygyny are quite clear. If the top 10% of males in a society have, on average, 2 wives then the bottom 10% of males do not get any. The more wives taken by elite males, the larger the group of low status males without wives. In polygynous societies, women become markers of status for intra-male competition, even if a large number of men only have one wife.

A recent comprehensive review article (pdf) on monogamy and polygyny notes that:

… the greater the percentage of unmarried men in the national population, the greater the rates of rape, murder, assault, theft and fraud, controlling for the same variables in the regression described above. The percentage of unmarried men is a highly significant predictor of all these crime rates, except assaults where it is only marginally significant. In fact, the percentage of unmarried men is the only predictor that is consistently important across all five felonies.

The article notes that monogamy (as a comprehensive marriage strategy) increases social cooperation and reduces violence: not exactly surprising results. The article also identifies a longstanding social mechanism for dealing with the wife shortage generated by polygyny:

In many non-industrialized societies, young unmarried men form groups of marauders who go on raids to steal wealth and wives, while raping and pillaging. Polygynous societies engage in more warfare, often with the goal of capturing women.

Sharia both sanctified and motivated such raiding. First, because non-believers are given three choices–(1) conversion, (2) submission to Sharia (i.e. Muslim) rule as manifested in payment of the jizya, or non-believer tax, or (3) war (including death and enslavement: though temporary truces are also permitted). The three choices come straight from a hadith and so the words of Muhammad:

When you meet your enemies who are polytheists, invite them to three courses of action. If they respond to any one of these, you also accept it and withold yourself from doing them any harm. Invite them to (accept) Islam; if they respond to you, accept it from them and desist from fighting against them. Then invite them to migrate from their lands to the land of Muhairs and inform them that, if they do so, they shall have all the privileges and obligations of the Muhajirs. If they refuse to migrate, tell them that they will have the status of Bedouin Muslims and will be subjected to the Commands of Allah like other Muslims, but they will not get any share from the spoils of war or Fai’ except when they actually fight with the Muslims (against the disbelievers). If they refuse to accept Islam, demand from them the Jizya. If they agree to pay, accept it from them and hold off your hands. If they refuse to pay the tax, seek Allah’s help and fight them (Sahih Muslim  4924).

Christians are people of the book, but are often taken to be polytheists because of the Trinity. Demands for payment of jizya are alive and well in contemporary Islam; with the update that receipt of welfare payments has been claimed as jizya (and so a sign of non-believer submission to believers).

Second, while only 4 wives were permitted, a believer could own any number of women slaves for sexual use. This comes straight from the words of Allah (as the Quran is the word of Allah, not of Muhammad) in Sura 4:24:

And [also prohibited to you are all] married women except those your right hands possess. [This is] the decree of Allah upon you. And lawful to you are [all others] beyond these, [provided] that you seek them [in marriage] with [gifts from] your property, desiring chastity, not unlawful sexual intercourse. So for whatever you enjoy [of marriage] from them, give them their due compensation as an obligation. And there is no blame upon you for what you mutually agree to beyond the obligation. Indeed, Allah is ever Knowing and Wise.

The phrase “what your right hand possess” is about what the sword hand takes. There is explanatory hadith (i.e. words of Muhammad) clarifying the point:

Having overcome them and taken them captives, the Companions of Allah’s Messenger (may peace te upon him) seemed to refrain from having intercourse with captive women because of their husbands being polytheists. Then Allah, Most High, sent down regarding that:” And women already married, except those whom your right hands possess (iv. 24)” (i. e. they were lawful for them when their ‘Idda period came to an end) (Sahih Muslim 3432).

Thus, being non-believing women captured by Muslims on jihad were not protected by their marriages to non-believers; making them as much “fair game” sexually as any other non-believer woman so captured.

Slavery as motivator

Muhammad presiding over the massacre of the men of the Banu Qurayza. (Their women and children were sold into slavery.)

So, Islam was established as a polygynous system, meaning it created a wife shortage among believers. But raiding non-believers who do not submit to Muslim rule was sanctified and taking their women for your sexual use was also sanctified. So, sexual frustration generated by Sharia marriage rules was then explicitly directed outwards towards the non-believers who have not submitted to Muslim rule. The ghazis raiding across the frontier into “the lands of unbelief” which were such a feature of the borders of Islam for over a millennia represented Islam sanctifying (and so intensifying) patterns of typical of polygyny; polygyny that it also sanctified.

The Ottomans incorporated the “holy raiders” into an effective military system. Ghazis would be incorporated into Ottoman forces as akinci, who subsisted on plunder from raids. They would degrade the (in their case Christian) society on the frontier by their constant raiding, driving people away, depressing economic activity, weakening the ability to resist. (And yes, current jihadi attacks are understood in analogous ways, specifically targeting the will to resist.) The main Ottoman army would then move in, occupy the territory, the ghazis and akinci would move to the new border, and the process would repeat. Using this basic pattern, the Ottomans chewed their way across Anatolia, through the Balkans and up to the gates of Vienna. The process was only brought to a halt by the adoption of the grenzer system of (substantially Orthodox Serb) militia farmers in the Military Frontier of the Habsburg lands. (The grenzer system was quite similar to the fubing militia system of Western WeiSui and Tang China; but they also had to deal with horse-riding raiders.)

What was old is new again

Which brings us back to the revival of slavery by the Islamist regime of Sudan and by the Islamic state. Both regimes have been endemically at war with those who do not accept their rule, including non-Muslims (whether actual non-Muslims or those defined by the regime as such). Both regimes are based on literalist ideology–that is, a “purification” of Islam by returning to its original nature and adherence to its texts. Those texts permit polygyny, slavery and war against those who do not submit to Muslim rule. More specifically, they permit sexual enslavement of women who have not submitted to Muslim rule. So, reviving slavery both shows adherence to original Islam and helps motivate (and recruit) fighters. It is an operationally rational return to original Islam; reviving a pattern that was operationally rational for Islam for centuries.

An essay by an (anonymous) official with wide Middle East experience in the New York Review of Books expressed puzzlement over the foreign fighter phenomenon:

Nor have there been any more satisfying explanations of what draws the 20,000 foreign fighters who have joined the movement. … these new foreign fighters seemed to sprout from every conceivable political or economic system. They came from very poor countries (Yemen and Afghanistan) and from the wealthiest countries in the world (Norway and Qatar). Analysts who have argued that foreign fighters are created by social exclusion, poverty, or inequality should acknowledge that they emerge as much from the social democracies of Scandinavia as from monarchies (a thousand from Morocco), military states (Egypt), authoritarian democracies (Turkey), and liberal democracies (Canada). It didn’t seem to matter whether a government had freed thousands of Islamists (Iraq), or locked them up (Egypt), whether it refused to allow an Islamist party to win an election (Algeria) or allowed an Islamist party to be elected. Tunisia, which had the most successful transition from the Arab Spring to an elected Islamist government, nevertheless produced more foreign fighters than any other country.

Nor was the surge in foreign fighters driven by some recent change in domestic politics or in Islam. Nothing fundamental had shifted in the background of culture or religious belief between 2012, when there were almost none of these foreign fighters in Iraq, and 2014, when there were 20,000. The only change is that there was suddenly a territory available to attract and house them. If the movement had not seized Raqqa and Mosul, many of these men might well have simply continued to live out their lives with varying degrees of strain—as Normandy dairy farmers or council employees in Cardiff. We are left again with tautology—ISIS exists because it can exist—they are there because they’re there.

No, actually, they are just ghazis with aeroplane tickets. Create a territory where the longstanding returns to “holy raiding”are firmly established, and they come. (Polygyny may generate systematic male sexual frustration, but modern society can do a certain amount of that too and, however powerful the sexual motivations, it hardly exhausts what being a ghazi offered.)

Islam has generated ghazis from its earliest days. And it can still do so, because those beliefs still have power. Especially if one’s unashamed literalism recreates the full range of motives.

But to understand this, one has to look under the “black box” of Islam and of Islamism.

Islam is a distinctive civilisation, with distinctive patterns resulting from distinctive presumptions. There are religious and civilisational reasons why it is the only civilisation generating such a spectacular and recurring homicidal temper tantrum against modernity, let alone a rage against modernity which has killed so many people in so many (mainly Muslim) countries.


[Cross-posted from Thinking Out Aloud.]

Bloody Scandinavian model yet again

By Lorenzo

This is based on a comment I made here.


There is a continuing line of commentary among social democrats, democratic socialists and progressivists generally to laud the Scandinavian model (aka Nordic model) as something for the US or Australia to follow. Matt Yglesias, following up from comments in the recent US Democratic Presidential candidate debate, continues this tradition (although, as one expects from Mr Yglesias, intelligently and well-informed).

Even so, I wish people would stop. Yes, looking at how other countries do things can be revealing and useful. But policy regimes evolve for specific reasons and, unless you understand those reasons, you are not going to be able to usefully apply any such lessons.

Let us leave aside whether the Scandinavian model has been oversold (pdf) (and that Nordics do even better in the US), or whether advocates understand the model as well as they think they do. Citing the Scandinavian model as a policy regime to adopt makes no sense for Australia, let alone the US.

If you are small, geographically contained, ethnically homogenous country of course you can run a social model that relies on congruent social bargaining at a relatively high tax-public good(+ extras) tradeoff. And, given the ease of information flows between officials and citizens and strong congruence in preferences and expectations, run the trade-off fairly efficiently.

None of these features apply to Australia or the US. Both are much more geographically varied (and if you don’t think that makes a difference for public policy, I invite you to take a tour around either the States of either, or the Provinces of Canada). Both are much more ethnically varied. (Over a quarter of Australians, 28%, are foreign born; around 13% of US residents are foreign born [pdf].) And ethnic diversity reduces social trust, with reduces the ability to centrally coordinate.

The biggest single public policy failure area in Australia is indigenous policy, and if you do not understand that poor information flows, divergent preferences and expectations–all due to profound differences in cultures and experiences–are central to said policy failures. you have not been paying attention. [Besides, Australia does as well as the Scandivanian countries on most indicators of well-being, including the Human Development Index, so it is not as if there is powerful motive to dramatically change policy regime.]

Togetherness we find easier to do.

One also notes that the more the US federal government does, the more popular respect for its institutions tend to fall. Over-reach beyond its useful coordinating capacity in such a large and diverse nation might have something to do with that. (And the latest substantial expansion of US federal involvement in healthcare has not been a popular success.)

Of course both US and Australia have evolved lower tax-public good+ trade offs. Indeed, as Sweden has become more ethnically diverse, Sweden itself is having increasing trouble making “the Scandinavian model” work.

The notion that public policy evolved in a way that suited the nature of the countries in Scandinavia but somehow weirdly went off the rails in Australia and the US does not make a lot of sense.

No, the Scandinavian model is not a good policy regime model for Australia or the US however much individual policies may be revealing and useful, even adaptable, to very different conditions.


[Cross-posted from Thinking Out Aloud.]

Nowadays, the presence of white Americans is generally good for African-Americans

By Lorenzo

If the key problem for African Americans was white racism, then they should do better the less contact they have with whites. But the reverse is true — African-Americans tend to do better the more they have contact with whites.

They do better in education — lots of research indicates that minority students do better in integrated schools. Having a white mother largely eliminates (pdf) the disadvantages of being African-American, likely partly because the sons of white mothers get more access to white networks. At the most global and most dramatic indicator, applying US census data (pdf) to World Bank rankings African-Americans are the second richest sub-Saharan African so-descended population in the world — apart from Bermudans. With much higher average incomes than West Africans. [The difference between African-American high school graduation rates and overall graduation rates by US State is strongly (-0.73) negatively correlated with the African-American share of the population — that is, the more embedded the local African-American population is in the local white population, the higher its high school graduation rates.]

So, whatever costs contemporary white racism imposes on African-Americans (white racism that is a pale shadow of its former self), its effects are swamped by the positive effects for African-Americans of interacting with white Americans. Yet African-Americans have lower average incomes, lower levels of completing high schoolentering and completing college and much higher rates of homicide and other crime than white Americans and Asian Americans.*

Interacting factors

A lot of these factors are interactive: if you are less likely to complete high school, you are less likely to enter college. If, on top of both of these, you are also less likely to complete college, then the combined effect will be lower average incomes. Especially as you will participate in various professions at a disproportionately low rate. [An effect exacerbated by the higher the level of education the more group differentiated incomes are.]

Higher rates of homicide and other crimes interfere with every stage in the above process. Whether due to increased risk of violent death or injury, increased risk of incarceration, or undermining social networks due to reduced social trust.

Given African-Americans have much the same homicide rate as a weighted average of Afro-Caribbean jurisdictions and West African jurisdictions, the elevated homicide rate of African-Americans is likely to do with their African-ness, not their American-ness. Given that African-Americans have a considerable and variable rate of non-African genes, genetic explanations are not likely to get us far.

Nevertheless, African populations do have lower levels of patience, which is not good for institution building, long-term networking, or human capital development but does encourage more impulsive (including more criminal and violent) behaviour. African-Americans have lower average IQ (pdf) than other Americans, and lower IQ tends to lead to lower incomes, lower levels of social cooperation and higher levels of criminal activity.

Honour cultures

Changes over time and large variations in, for example, homicide rates between Afro-Caribbean and West African states means that we should not despair that any particular pattern is pre-determined. But it does mean that we have to look at the right places to make things better. White racism is not the right place.

Discount factors measure how you value the future.

The effect of honour cultures on violence is one much better place, especially as we know from European history that shifting from an honour culture to a dignity culture makes a serious downward difference (pdf) to homicide rates. That shift seems to be connected to moving out of being medieval societies, where the state simply has a dominance of organised violence, to post-medieval societies, where the state has an effective monopoly of organised violence. In the US case, that is more the shift to a post-frontier society; as on the frontier the American state very much did not have a monopoly of organised violence.

The point of honour cultures is a willingness to (if necessary) violently defend one’s personal autonomy — both physical space and reputation. (A nice summary of honour cultures, dignity or guilt cultures and face or shame cultures is here.) Honour cultures typically operate if the state is effectively absent, does not have a monopoly of organised violence, is seriously mistrusted or some combination thereof. In different ways, all three factors tend to operate within African-American communities — the police are more distrusted and the “war on drugs” create a range of assets which are not state-protected and income flows which are state-threatened.

So, getting rid of the “War on Drugs” coupled with more accountable (and much less militarised and revenue-seeking) police forces with better local outreach (a model for which is provided in the successful efforts to suppress gang warfare in LA) would very likely help African-American communities transition away from a destructive honour culture amongst young African-American males.

If the protective dimension of a dignity culture is an accountable state which handles protection of life, person and property tolerably well, the income dimension is commerce. The lower the level of human capital, social capital, income and wealth among a community, the more burdensome is intrusive regulation on their commercial opportunities. So, premiums on bureaucratic approval (from occupational licensing, land use regulations, etc), compliance costs, etc need to be significantly lowered.

The third dimension of the dignity culture is a culture of personal responsibility. If you can always blame everything on “the man” then there is no path of learning, there is no path of doing better and better in relations to others and yourself.

Shrieking “racism” by those whose moral certainty exceeds their social understanding** as the catch-all explanation of different social outcomes between African-Americans and other Americans is simply empirically wrong and socially destructive. Because it not only blocks searching for other (much more important) causes but it actively gets in the way of necessary changes if things are to improve.

But that is the difference between signalling how Virtuous you are and actually being serious about improving the circumstances of those whose social outcomes make them such splendid moral mascots or sacred victims.


* The much higher rates of homicide in particular generates a major disadvantage for other Americans from the presence of African-Americans; which, even without historical legacies, would be enough in itself to generate residential segregation.

** Given how swamped we are with information and complexity, it is possible that moral certainty is acting as a substitute for, and a pretence of, social understanding.


ADDENDA The effect of the War on Drugs on African-American homicide rates in particular is worse than I thought

[Cross-posted from Thinking Out Aloud.]

Immigration and social order

By Lorenzo

The entire debate over immigration, particularly illegal immigration, turns on the issue of social order — specifically, its value and cohesiveness. Those who think there is simply no issue — that no people who make the effort to go to another country to live can be a threat to the social order they are entering, no matter what their numbers or characteristics — thus see immigration (legal or otherwise) as a very simple moral issue. People have a right to live where they wish and societies should willingly accept anyone who wants to live there. The worse the conditions or dangers they are fleeing, the more that is so.

Of course, it never occurs to some that there could possibly be a social order issue. If confronted with such concerns, they are either uncomprehending, dismissive or hostile. They posit — without apparently noticing that they are doing so — that the receiving societies are unproblematically adaptable to any particular influx, no matter what the scale.

Not accepting concern about any effect on social order as valid, it is then easy to “read” raising such concerns as oppressive (racist, xenophobic, etc). This is the three languages of politics issue, where progressives see blocking migrants as oppressive, while libertarians see it as coercive.

Conservatives, by contrast, have social order concerns at the centre of their political worldview. So they tend to read tolerance for illegal immigration in particular as either deliberately subversive or stupidly naive.

(And there is a line of thought which takes the view that any harm done to the host societies is well-deserved; what is rather nicely labelled ethno-masochism. As the new arrivals would likely also be negatively affected by such increased dysfunction, it is an attitude based on deep despite, not genuine concern for others.)

De-legitimising debate
Given that journalists and academics and related professions are strongly progressivist in their ideological outlook, and (based on US evidence) remarkably homogeneously so, there is a serious problem if even raising concerns about immigration is regarded as illegitimate. If wanting less immigration, or wanting to discuss selection criteria for migrants, is “anti-migrant”, “xenophobic”, “racist” etc, then it is not possible to have a free and open debate about immigration.

Which, of course, may be the point of the exercise — the notion that “our moral project is so important that dissent is wicked” is a view that is clearly alive and well: that this “error has no rights” view is one of the key premises of totalitarianism either does not strike such folk or they don’t care.

A comment on the Via Meadia blog expresses the use of terminology to try and close down debate nicely:

Take “anti-immigrant,” for example. We hear that a lot. What, exactly, does it mean? As far as I can tell, its popular political meaning is this: anyone who suggests fewer immigrants be let into one’s country, no matter what reason they give, is automatically “anti-immigrant.” So the “debate” never even gets started because there can be no debating someone who is “anti-immigrant,” right? Another is xenophobia. This is a favorite because it has overtones of erudition, being a Greek word and all. So if one is concerned about hundred of thousands, millions or tens of millions of immigrants from vastly different cultures entering one’s country, one therefore fears strangers?

Such de-legitimising also means cutting out of the debate anyone with such concerns or views. The narrowing of debate has become increasingly pervasive. Thus, I could not post the picture opposite on Facebook(tm): apparently any negative reflection on refugees is verboten.

As being concerned about, sceptical of, etc to immigration turns out to be large proportions of electorates, such pressure to narrow debate becomes a serious problem for the health of democracy. And if mainstream politics will not address the concerns of significant numbers of voters, then that provides an opportunity for less (or non-) mainstream politics to do so. What I called in my previous post the “angry voter” effect.

Immigration policy provides an opportunity for a large-scale use of the Curley effect, whereby one seeks to bring in migrants expected to vote for you — it has been suggested that the former British Labour Government had such a strategy. An effect which is increased if one also drives out people not expected to vote for you. (The effect is named after a Mayor of Boston who encouraged rich Protestants to leave while mobilising poor Irish Catholics.) Leaving aside the moral issues, the operational trouble with any such policy on a national scale is that migrants take a while to become voters, so there is the danger of driving up the “angry vote” quicker than you increase your own.

The frustrated popular sentiments being captured by the Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump surges in US Presidential politics are nicely expressed by conservative intellectual Yuval Lugan:

But in their different ways, they are actually pointing to some shared frustrations: Both Trump and Sanders are calling attention to those political debates in which the inherent cosmopolitanism of modern capitalism is most deeply in tension with the inherent populism of modern democracy—especially, but by no means exclusively, immigration and trade.

The Trump insurgence in particular is expressing a populist frustration which is also manifesting in such things as the surge in the National Front in France, the Sweden Democrats in Sweden, the UKIP in the UK and so on. All tapping into notions among voters that their government is supposed to be on their side, looking out for their interests.

Especially as the net benefits of immigration tend to be correlated with how much capital (including human capital) one has — that is, the benefits tend to be positively correlated with how much capital one is backed by, the costs negatively correlated (i.e. high capital folk tend to get most of the benefits, low capital folk most of the costs). [For example, a recent paper (pdf) found that the sudden arrival of largely unskilled immigrants from Cuba in 1980 seriously depressed the wages of those in Miami who had not completed high school for years afterwards.]

Thus the costs of immigration vary considerably among social groups. It is therefore not surprising that, in the UK, polling suggests that Labour voters are quite hostile to immigration. The fear that immigration can overstep popular tolerance is a perfectly reasonable one. Especially as the scale and rate of inflows matter. When, for example, long time renters start getting evicted to make way for refugees (and that in a country with relatively strongly responsive housing supply), it is not likely to help social acceptance.

But modern progressivists typically don’t socialise with those who disproportionately bear the costs of migration. As talking about such costs — let alone considering the possibility they may vary with different migrant groups — becomes BadThink, the interests of those citizens who disproportionately bear the costs become themselves de-legitimatised. Instead, we see a tendency to sneer at such concerns from considerable social, and self-defined moral, distance. (Social distance that has been increasing over time, at least in the US.)

Virtue signalling
Any highly moralised perspective that is dismissive of dissent is made for Virtue signalling. Virtue signalling itself gets a great deal more power from maximising the wickedness of those who dissent — who are then bullied with systematic attacks on their motives and moral character (something social media is made for). Such Virtue-signalling leads to the sort of mindset which is happy to negotiate with (or, at least consider the alleged grievances of) terrorists, but not with sinner fellow citizens sceptical about, or hostile to, the Virtue signal of endorsing the obvious and overwhelming urgency of letting refugees in. Besides, if much of the point of the exercise is to signal Virtue, then alienating lots of voters becomes a good thing — it gives so many more folk to signal Virtue against. Thereby applying a basic principle of modern progressivist politics: I am superior to you because I am more committed to equality than you.

Though being outraged at the notion that public debate should be wide enough to encompass the concerns of large numbers of fellow citizens does show a deep not getting of what this democracy thing actually means. The EU is currently demonstrating the difficulties of systematically excluding widely held concerns from normal democratic political bargaining.

The entire point of the flows of people into Western societies is precisely that Western societies are very successful societies; that is why folk want to live there. But valuing Western success is not a noticeable feature of the Virtuous mindset.

The ostentatiously Virtuous typically have no idea how narrow their moral vision is (nor how narrowly self-serving it is), blinded as they typically are by their own moral self-satisfaction and their (often deeply hypocritical) burblings about tolerance and diversity (which typically do not extend to tolerance and diversity about divergent opinions or inconvenient concerns). It is one thing to argue the costs of large-scale migration are worth bearing — it is quite another to treat any discussion of such costs as illegitimate.

Much of Virtue signalling is based on ignoring or downplaying inconvenient facts. Which becomes even more of a problem if such cognitive blinkers seep into reporting, analysis and commentating because of high levels of moral conformity — particularly Virtue-signalling conformity — among journalists, academics and similar professions (thereby pushing reports of problems into more rambunctious media). It is precisely such blinkering, and consequent intensifying of narrowness in perspective, which makes cognitive conformity so dangerous for decision-making.

Gains from trade and other economies
Economists of an open borders bent point to the overall improvement in human welfare from migration, given that the income of people moving to the better organised (i.e. more productive) societies will be raised–which is, of course, a major motivation for moving to such countries. Libertarian economist Bryan Caplan provides a representative example of such enthusiasm for open borders.

The economist-libertarian argument about welfare gains due to moving to countries with higher productivity provides an example of gliding over social order concerns. Which is particularly easy for libertarians, who tend to take the view that social outcomes are state+private transactions, hence there is no problem from any level of migration because the state will continue to operate as before and there will be more gains-from-trade private transactions.

If, by contrast, one takes a broader view of the importance of social capital, and of possible impacts on (pdf) the operation of the existing state, then the libertarian argument becomes rather less impressive. It is both funny and sad to read an open-borders enthusiast wrestling with the idea that a billion entrants might change the US political system. The notion that entrants who have done nothing to show any commitment to the society they are resident in will follow the expectations and rules of their new society is hardly something to be just assumed. Especially if no pressure is put on them to do so.

Democracy and rule of law — particularly accepting different-but-equal and not nepotistically colonising institutions, to take two examples whose lack explains much about the contemporary Middle East — are ideas and patterns of behaviour that folk have to be socialised into. (After all, helicopter-dropping democracy into Iraq, without dividing it into its constituent communities; that worked so well.) Such socialising requires a slow enough rate of immigration for it to occur; and the more divergent the patterns of behaviour and belief the originating societies are from the outlooks and behaviours that democracy and rule of law are based on, the slower the rate of immigration needs to be.

One of the remarkable features of the Virtuous mindset is that it holds that Western societies are seething with hateful thoughts and beliefs that desperately require laws against “hate speech”, academic speech codes and institutional codes of conduct; all to block, repress and transform said hateful thoughts and beliefs. Yet to suggest that there might be problematic patterns of belief and behaviour among actual or potential migrant groups is wicked BadThink.

But the point of Virtue signalling is to elevate one’s status against one’s fellow citizens and one’s own society; neither of which Virtue signalling is served — indeed both are undermined — by critical examination of non-Western patterns of belief and behaviour. So, non-Westerners become moral mascots, to use Thomas Sowell’s language, or sacred victims, to use Jonathan Haidt’s, and thus morally protected groups; critical consideration not allowed.

As Haidt points out, sacredness involves abandoning trade-offs. The sacred victims are not placed with other mere mortals within a web of trade-offs between moral principles, but elevated to a special moral purity such that critical examination itself becomes a sin against Virtue.

Fiscal costs and policy adjustments
There is an argument about the cost of immigration for welfare systems. In the US, poor immigrants seem to access welfare at a lower rate than the locally born poor. But this is a pattern which will depend on national rules about eligibility and the make-up of immigrants. It becomes a potential issue if the increase in welfare expenditure from immigration is greater than the increase in revenue from increased economic activity from immigration: which does not seem to be a significant problem anywhere. But that is a fiscal cost argument which has no particular connection to social order concerns and which, in libertarian hands, is more likely to be an argument for scaling back welfare provision.

The libertarian case for open borders is typically also bound up in arguing for the necessary policy adjustments — that labour markets be liberalised to encompass the new entrants, that land use regulation be liberalised to provide housing at reasonable prices and so on. The evidence is that such things are not likely to occur. Indeed, one of the sectional advantages of immigration can be to drive up the value of existing houses in supply-constricted markets. Such immigration can also make it easier to restrict the supply of housing for land, because a larger proportion of housing market entrants become new arrivals — so non-voters — skewing the electoral math even more towards market restriction and so creating “insiders” and “outsiders” (with migrants being “outsiders”). Nor is there any reason such a “more market entrants are non-voters so blocking market entry becomes electorally easier” dynamic could not operate in other markets.

Indeed, one sign that the Virtuous posturing on immigration is just that is that they can be relied on to oppose and denounce any of the market liberalisations which would have to be enacted to enable reasonable economic participation by large numbers of new migrants. Just as they would oppose and denounce any attempt to have education systems encourage loyalty to the new country or anything resembling open and critical debate about what might or might not work well in the new social settings compared to what folk are fleeing from. [Yet acknowledging such an over-arching identity and focus of loyalty also provides paths to integration for migrants.]

If the path to signally moral Virtue is taking a critical stance towards one’s own society, not only does that mean ignoring its strengths but it also undermines any real incentive to minimise social dysfunction that does not directly affect folk like oneself, because such social dysfunction then provides more things to signal Virtue against. The pose among the Virtuous about being “subversive” is at least in part about preserving their sense of moral purity by not taking responsibility for anything unfortunate. Econblogger Noah Smith has coined the nice term of “Haan history“:

Injustice anywhere, under Haan thinking, invalidates justice everywhere else. …
What matters is not just the flow of current injustice, but the stock of past injustices.
Haan presents a vision of stasis that is different from the Malthusian version. By focusing on the accumulated weight of history instead of the current situation, and by focusing on the injustices and atrocities and negative aspects of history, it asserts that the modern age, for all its comforts and liberties and sensitivity, is inherently wrong.

A view which suits Virtue signalling, as it maximises sensitivity to moral imperfection to better signal one’s own superior Virtue.`

Population variance
Given their heightened sense of the fragility of social order, conservatives tend to think it obvious that large-scale migration is potentially degrading or destabilising of a social order built up on developed social habits, framings and perspectives that incoming migrants do not share and have not participated in. (Including comparisons with the collapse of the Western Roman Empire.) Historian Michael Burleigh articulates that sort of concern, that mass, uncontrolled migration:

… raises questions whether one can simply uproot people from entirely different cultural universes and expect them to thrive in societies that may subscribe to other values, with radically different expectations of their citizens.

Illegal immigration is particularly disliked, since it inherently involves breaking the laws of the country being entered.

If, as libertarians and progressives tend to hold, there are no legitimate or substantive social order problems with immigration (legal or otherwise), it then becomes a reasonable question to ask what is different from that and simple armed invasion? To which the answer would be that armed invasion involves the application of coercion and the clear intent to impose a new social, or at least political, order.

An answer that does not take us nearly as far as it might appear. The obvious case is Israel and the alleged Palestinian “right of return“. It is blindingly obvious that if Israel stopped being a majority Jewish state, then the safety of Jews in Israel would be greatly degraded. (If it was not obvious before–though it was, for those with eyes to see–the present state of mutual massacre in the Middle East has made it so.)  While it is a refreshing change to see Israel’s amazing record of taking in refugees lauded, it is also a useful to remember they were specifically Jewish refugees, overwhelmingly likely to be committed to the Jewish state, strongly motivated to its success and embraced by those already there as contributors to state-building in hostile environment.

Human groups can have seriously varying values, framings and perspectives. [Thus they can vary dramatically in levels of pro- or anti-social behaviour, extending to cooperation personality types (pdf) and such factors as levels of patience.]

And in reactions to the same: there is a lot more popular scepticism about Muslims than Jews in Europe. Scepticism that is hardly empty of things to be concerned about. The Front National (FN) in France is picking up considerable gay and Jewish support in polling precisely because both groups feel (not unreasonably) somewhat threatened by the dominant migrant group in France. A milder manifestation of the same issue is that the security guards one sees at synagogues and Jewish schools in Australia are not there because of concerns with the Anglo-Celtic majority, nor any postwar European migrants, nor more recent East Asian migration, but due to a specific set of migrants.

Honour cultures, diversity and crime
Social orders are not independent of the people who constitute them (though living in particular social orders can affect how people see social possibilities). Thus, evidence suggests that, while migrants in general tend to have significantly lower crime rates than locally-born residents, importing significant number of migrants from honour culture societies is likely to raise one’s crime rate; something that European history makes very plausible (pdf). Muslim countries are honour culture societies.

Moreover, as increased ethnic diversity reduces trust, and reduced social trust tends to increase crime, importing large numbers of migrants can increase crime in localities (pdf) even if the migrants are less likely to commit crimes than the locally born; more so if they are.

All migrant groups are not the same. Moreover, if patterns of behaviour, thought and belief are not conducive to embracing the social success of the countries they are coming to, then assuming that everything about their cultures of origin is just fine, and nothing needs to change, actually inhibits participation in said social success. It is very plausible, for example, that a persistent honour ethics has much to do with the elevated African-American homicide rates (6 times the US average) and why they are so similar to Afro-Carribbean and West African rates. More hopefully, divergent embrace of such ethics may help explain the wide variance in homicide rates within the two latter groups of countries (i.e. different propensities to adopt dignity, rather than honour, ethics). Evidence suggests that among the current wave of would-be migrants to Europe, some are bringing their conflicts with them:

But insults, threats, discrimination and blackmail against Christian asylum-seekers in particular are a regular occurrence, according to the Munich-based Central Council for Oriental Christians (ZOCD).
“I’ve heard so many reports from Christian refugees who were attacked by conservative Muslims,” said Simon Jacob, of the Central Council for Oriental Christians (ZOCD).
But that’s only the tip of the iceberg, the ZOCD board member told DW: “The number of unreported cases is much higher.”

Not a good start for entry into historically Christian countries.

The notion that social orders are infinitely adaptable to any level of voluntary migration from any source is deeply implausible. The more dysfunctional the social order folk are coming from, the more implausible that is. Especially if there are, for example, religious reasons which may lead to clinging to causes for said dysfunction. No country is under any obligation to import social dysfunction.

Variant framings
Even without such concerns, deeply variant framings and perspectives can make operating a common political order more difficult. Muslim countries dominate the top origin countries for asylum seekers in the UK, for example. But Muslims are also the only potential migrant group where the mainstream position of the civilisation they come from has been that there is no moral order beyond revelation, a result of the defeat of Aristotelianism within mainstream Islam and the triumph of al-Ghazali‘s approach.

That is a very different framing than that the social orders of Western societies have been built on; or the social orders of any other group of potential migrants. Which is not an argument against Muslim migration per se (especially as some groups, such as the Ismailis, do not buy into the problematic patterns): but it is very definitely an argument that the scale of Muslim migration matters.

For Muslim men (note, not Muslim women: gender dynamics are a key part of the issue) are a unique migrant group — they are the only migrant group who tend to become less integrated with their host societies over time. The key difficulty being that the position of mainstream Islam is that God ordains that male believers should be at the apex of the social order. Which, of course, Muslim men (particularly young Muslim men) in Western societies are clearly not, nor likely to be. Which just sets things up for them becoming disproportionately alienated from their host society — and the more so in particular if societies regulate their labour markets to protect insiders against outsiders (as is very much the normal pattern in Continental Europe, particularly France) and the larger Muslim-dominated enclaves become. The former increases alienation, the latter intensifies cognitive-conformity effects.

Thus there is reason to believe that it makes a difference what proportion of the population is Muslim, and that raising the proportion amplifies problems rather than solving them [and also]. Australia has a strikingly successful migration policy, but the one notably problematic migrant group has been Muslim Lebanese in Sydney — partly because Sydney is Australia’s most socially dysfunctional major metropolis (including highly restrictive land use regulation) and because Muslim Lebanese were imported in a rather large “lump”, by-passing the normal filters and safeguards. (The Christian Lebanese, by contrast, have been no trouble — they adapted the existing Catholic networks and do not share the above framing problems.)

At one level, the fuss over foreign fighters for ISIS:

Nor have there been any more satisfying explanations of what draws the 20,000 foreign fighters who have joined the movement. … in truth, these new foreign fighters seemed to sprout from every conceivable political or economic system.

shows a lack of historical perspective — they are just ghazis with aeroplane tickets. The real question is, why is Islam still producing ghazis? Because those aspects of the belief system that has generated ghazis for 1300 years still have power.

In other words, the most problematic migration flow in the modern world is large numbers of single Muslim men, particularly young Muslim men. But if your moral perspective not only does not permit distinguishing between possible migrant groups, but even discussing the possibility is illegitimate, then this all becomes one long exercise in BadThink and the Virtue-signalling shrieking begins. For part of Virtue-signalling is chocolate box multiculturalism — where only Westerners can have wicked, dangerous or problematic beliefs.

It is particularly inappropriate for Australians to urge Europe to accept large numbers of refugees, given that doing so in current circumstances will involve utilising none of the features which have made Australian migration policies successful. On the contrary, it will be overwhelmingly a very large case of the least successful example of said policies and in societies much less set up for migration and with much less successful records in dealing with it.

Context and perspectives
Meanwhile, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland are only accepting Christian refugees from Syria. Given that they are not settler societies, are not set up for large-scale immigration, and have very definite ethno-linguistic identities, an understandable decision. The Gulf States are not accepting their fellow Arabs as refugees because they are worried about upsetting the social balance of their societies. (The Middle East is the leading region for the trend towards border fences.)

People from Anglosphere countries particularly should not sneer at the concerns of people from small  European countries. The US (pop. 321.6m, area 9.2m km2), Canada (pop. 35.7m, area 10m km2), Australia (pop. 23.9m, area 7.7m km2) are settler societies insulated by large oceans and, along with New Zealand (pop. 4.6m, area 268,000 km2) and UK (pop. 64.5m, area 242,000 km2) make up an ocean-insulated, deeply culturally compatible Anglosphere of 450.3m people inhabiting 27.3m km2. (The entire EU is 508.2m people inhabiting 4.3m km2.)

Hungarians (pop. 9.9m, area 93,000 km2) do not have another Hungary to play with. Slovaks (pop. 5.4m, area 49,000 km2) do not have another Slovak Republic to play with. Czechs (pop. 10.5m, area 79,000 km2) do not have another Czech Republic to play with. And so on.

Migration is not part of the national identity of such European countries, they are not set up to be settler societies; becoming multicultural would not change as much as, in a real sense, abolish their national identity. Moreover, German Chancellor Angela Merkel publicly stated that the multiculturalist approach had failed in Germany. British PM David Cameron has also been harsh in his criticism of “state multiculturalism”. Multiculturalism does not come close to being widely supported policy even in large European countries.

The issue of Muslim migration in particular has particularly unfortunate cultural baggage for Hungarians, given a great national tragedy was their defeat at Mohacs (1527) and the conquest of most of Hungary by the Ottoman Empire under Sultan and Caliph Suleiman the Magnificent; not remotely a pleasant historical memory [which Hungary’s Prime Minister has specifically invoked].

This is the sort of context that Megan McArdle misses in her “but think of what they will contribute” upbeat reporting on refugees. (In her case, reflecting her libertarian inclinations.) While the answer to the question is what is different about walls keeping people out compared to walls keeping people in is just a bigger version of why people are allowed to fence their properties in the first place — to preserve what they are entitled to preserve.

It is moral imperialism to insist that small European countries issue what is effectively a blank cheque for entry of people who they share nothing with; not even the experience of migration. (Not, at least, in remotely useful historical memory — the Volkerwanderung was a long time ago now.) But none of this is likely to register as anything other than BadThink among folk whose moral certainty exceeds their social understanding.

Mass migrations of the C19th
Libertarians are likely to invoke as evidence for their confidence in open borders the halcyon days of the mass migrations of the C19th, particularly to the US. But that example is much less straightforward than might appear. First, the difficulty of travel in the C19th provided something of an inherent filter. Both in selecting for initiative and encouraging commitment to their new home once folk arrived in their new home. As transport costs have trended down, the implied filter weakens (across both dimensions).

Second, such immigration was a great deal more contested than is often remembered. Considerable efforts were made to block tropical labour flows from going to the temperate zone settler societies. Much of the tension in the pre-Civil War US was fuelled by the politics of immigration and the downward pressure on the living standards of existing residents the massive flows of migrants provided, fuelling strong nativist sentiments that the new Republican Party finessed by redirecting resentment to “the slave power”. And we know where that led. (Which is not saying that immigration caused the American Civil War, slavery was far more important; merely that pressures from mass immigration were definitely part of the explosive mix.)

Disrupting order
In his recent Daily Mail article, historian Michael Burleigh points particularly to political alienation among voters as a threat from mass migration:

… [that] could splinter the Continent, fostering xenophobic nationalism, as immigration swamps individual countries. …
The inability of governments to get a grip on the problem is benefiting parties on the populist Right which exploit immigration.
And it’s not just Ukip’s huge tally of votes at the last British General Election; recent elections in Denmark, where the Right-wing Danish People’s Party won the biggest share of the vote in its 20-year history, and Finland, where the nationalist Finns Party is now part of the coalition government, are also cases in point. …
As we have witnessed in various European countries, the anger this engenders quickly assumes political forms, with the rise of neo-Nazi parties. What on earth do Europe’s leaders imagine is driving this angry populism, including that of established legal immigrants? The common fisheries policy?

Burleigh specifically points to the danger to the welfare state:

Uncontrolled migration impacts unfairly on benefits, education, housing and public transport in ways that destroy any notion of the contributory element that lies at the heart of European welfare states.

This is not a concern over fiscal costs as such, but a concern over a welfare state as a common enterprise. This is a historically valid fear; it is very clear that a sense that one group is continually (as in, over decades) subsidising another can be deeply corrosive of a sense of commonality. The rise of the Lega Nord in Italy, and of Flemish nationalism in Belgium, substantially come from such corrosion.

As Burleigh notes, the costs of large-scale migration are not evenly distributed. In particular, the costs tend to fall most heavily on those least connected into Virtue signalling processes.

Refugee floods
We live in an age of record levels of refugees: a high proportion of which are fleeing the consequences of political Islam. The only significant return of refugees in recent years was the flow of Afghan refugees back to Afghanistan after the NATO invasion: but political Islam, in the form of the Taliban, then generated another refugee exodus.

More recently, Afghan refugees in Pakistan have come under strong pressure (to put it politely) to return to Afghanistan. Meanwhile, ISIS appears to be recruiting among refugees, both in Turkey and in Europe.

If you open the doors, they will keep coming; not as a one-off wave but as a continuing movement. Opening the doors does not solve the refugee flow, it just encourages it. The UN currently sees no end in sight to the flow towards Europe.

These refugee flows are very different from the post WWII refugee flows in Europe. That was a response to a specific (if enormous) disruptive event and was mostly a matter of people moving to countries of people they shared an ethnic identity with or abandoning Europe for settler societies dominated by European-descent populations. (Neo-Europes, in historian Alfred Crosby’s useful term.) The current refugees are fleeing more endemic dysfunction to places they have no shared identities, historical continuities or experiences with.

And they will keep coming in leaky, over-crowded boats with tragic but predictable consequences. Adopting on the way through whatever ever claimed identities will get them in. Australian experience is quite clear on this — the only way to stop the drownings at sea is to close the doors for those coming by boat. If there is no [functional] supply (of entry via boat) then there is no [expressed] demand for such boat travel.

It is also obvious that a certain amount of target selection is going on, as in reports of “asylum seekers” who find that Finland is not to their taste. But, then that was also part of the Australian experience, as “asylum seekers” bypassed many jurisdictions and a large section of the globe to get to their preferred destination. Smaller (and poorer) European nations in the path of the mass migration are attempting to play “pass the parcel”, with mixed success.

In 1950, the population of the Middle East was 18% of Europe’s: it is now 65% and is expected to surpass Europe’s population in the next 20[30] years. In 1950, the population of Sub-Saharan Africa was 33% that of Europe’s: it is now 130% of Europe’s and is likely to be twice that of Europe’s by 2040[2035]. In the light of the dramatic change in relative populations, an open door policy is a policy of Europe becoming an extension of the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa. Not an outcome likely to be embraced by the voters of Europe.

Sovereign entitlement
Sovereignty is fundamental to democracy, because if a state cannot choose to act, then the votes of its citizens have no power.  [Asking ordinary voters to be comfortable with large-scale illegal — i.e. unchosen by democratic processes — immigration is asking them to be comfortable with having their powerlessness publicly flaunted.] Moreover, as Peter Hitchens notes, no country is under any obligation to import social dysfunction. Either via people who bring social dysfunction with them, or whose presence generates it, or whose unwanted entry stresses the receiving political system.

It is perfectly reasonable for Jewish or queer citizens to be deeply sceptical about importing large numbers of migrants who are disproportionately likely to make their lives in their own societies worse. It is perfectly reasonable for people to be adverse to running genuine risks of increased crime. Or downward pressure on their incomes. Or upward pressure on the costs of housing. Or undermining a sense of common loyalty and shared, compatible realm of political bargaining. It is not evil to have these concerns, and it is not moral to dismiss them with contempt.

Around 70% of the incoming migrants are men (13% women, 18% children) and around 80% of incoming migrants are Muslim. EU countries have not done very good jobs of integrating their Muslim residents and citizens. Thus Germany is beginning to experience “problem zones” for police and emergency service personnel, like France and Sweden before it. (I am avoiding the “no-go zone” terminology, as that generates diverting semantic controversy from what is a real and growing problem; the issue is not religious blocks on civilian entry but problem areas for the movement and operation of police and other emergency services.)

Remembering that Middle Eastern Muslims in particular come from a tradition of distrust of state authority, bring their own system of law which — as the law of the Sovereign of the Universe — trumps mere human law, engage in high levels of cousin marriage because lineage provides many of the protective and coordinating services Western tradition gives to the state and other formal bodies, and have a history of non-kin religious organisations also providing coercive services — to the extent of either founding their own states or helping others to do so.

Contesting the operation of infidel states in their own territories has a range of ready-to-use social mechanisms. So it is quite plausible that increases in the Muslim population share can see significant shifts in behaviour patterns [and also].

Importing large numbers of single Muslim males — the most problematic migrant group in the most problematic form — is simply not a good idea. Refugee families from the oppressed minorities of the Middle East are, by contrast, much better prospects for integration.

(And the moral posturing of the Virtuous can be dismissed, given that they would bitterly oppose and denounce any attempt to move EU countries towards a policy mix that might actually have some chance of dealing successfully which such an influx.)

More broadly, a migration policy that, given the underlying demographic patterns, if continued with, means an effective abolition of one’s current national identity is also not a policy any country is under any moral obligation to embrace.


[Cross-posted from Thinking Out Aloud.]