child abuse

Why is child abuse not opposed more passionately on the Right

From an email from Paul Foster:

From my perch, there are two primary reasons the right doesn’t more passionately oppose child abuse. The first has to do with parents’ rights. The general conservative view of the child welfare system is of a group of liberal ladies who think they know better than parents and who are especially skeptical of religious parenting, especially conservative Christian parenting. (The NYT op-ed opposing home schooling was an almost-too-perfect totem in that regard.) As a result, while many on the right will say “sure, flat-out abuse is bad,” they’ll assume that “abuse” will be defined eventually to include homeschooling, imparting religious views (especially on traditional gender roles), and the like. The early 20th-century attempt to eradicate the German language and culture through the public schools is often pointed to, as is (at least among the hipper conservatives (I swear we exist!)) that one Simpsons episode where a social worker gives demerits to Marge and Homer’s household for “toilet paper hung in improper overhand fashion.”

The second reason–and this is probably true for both the right and the left–is that you can’t even think of a solution by reasoning from your political views. “Adults shouldn’t beat kids” is universally accepted, but your views on taxes or your reading of Ayn Rand or that latest anti-Pelosi meme doesn’t give you anything helpful in actually stopping adults from beating kids. Without a political solution, it tends to fall by the political wayside.

Here are my previous recent posts on related questions concerning child abuse.

Why the low status of opposition to child abuse?

Michael Kaan emails me:

Hi Tyler, I’m a healthcare professional in Canada and a long-time reader of your blog. For the past couple of years, observing the culture wars and various elections, I’ve noticed that child abuse is an extremely rare topic among the cultural left: the highly visible progressive segment that drives wokeness, is culturally powerful, etc. You know what their dominant concerns are. (On the right it’s basically non-existent.)

While there’s nothing obviously wrong with their attention to sexual and racial discrimination, the energy put into it is disproportionate to the massive social cost of child abuse. Rates vary around the world, but in general it looks like about 30% of all children globally suffer some sort of serious maltreatment each year, often many times a year, repeated over multiple years.
So one can easily estimate that billions of people have experienced this. In other words, more people have been abused as children than have experienced war, famine, or epidemics.
The impact and costs of this have been measured (low academic achievement, health problems, low earnings, drug and alcohol use, etc.), and child abuse is sometimes lethal. What puzzles me is why it has no legs politically. Among the woke crowd, if child abuse is mentioned it’s usually in terms of discrimination against girls or sexual minorities. But there are really no prominent voices actively campaigning to mitigate child abuse generally.
Why is this? Is it overly complex? Is the phenomenon too widely dispersed demographically, so that an evil agent group isn’t easily identified? Does its persistence foreground chronic failures of the welfare state (if that’s the case)? Is it boring?

For a start, I would note that virtually everyone is again child abuse, so opposing it doesn’t make anyone significant look worse.  But I am sure there is much more to it than that.

The Lost Eden of Childhood. Not Lost. Not Eden.

Jim Manzi warms to Paul Krugman’s nostalgia:

It’s difficult to convey the almost unbearable sweetness of this kind of American childhood to anybody who didn’t live it. The safety and freedom that Krugman describe are rare now even for the wealthiest Americans – by age 9, I would typically leave the house on a Saturday morning on my bike, tell my parents I was “going out to play,” and not return until dinner; at age 10, would go down to the ocean to swim with friends without supervision all day; and at age 11 would play flashlight tag across dozens of yards for hours after dark. And the sense of equality was real, too. Some people definitely had bigger houses and more things than others, but our lives were remarkably similar. We all went to the same schools together, played on the same teams together, and watched the same TV shows. The idea of having, or being, “help” seemed like something from old movies about another time.

Who doesn’t look upon their childhood with wistfulness for what has been lost?  Exile from Eden is one of the oldest stories on record. But don’t mistake personal narrative for reality.  When Manzi says “we all went to the same schools together, played on the same teams together, and watched the same TV shows.” He isn’t talking about African Americans. And was the idea of having or being help, really “from a different time”? Again, not for African Americans. In 1950 more than 40% of African American women in the labor force were domestic servants. (Moreover, given these numbers a back of the envelope calculation suggests proportionately fewer homes with maids today.) See also Megan McArdle on Manzi’s vision and women staying at home.

Growing up in Northern Virginia, my children experience far more ethnic, cultural, racial and sexual diversity and equality than just about any child growing up outside of a commune did in the 1950s and 1960s.

Has childhood freedom been lost?  No. Childhood freedom hasn’t been “lost,” it has been taken away by parents. As a child, I too was free to play in the woods but then again my parents didn’t buckle me up in the car, either.

Has safety decreased? It is true that one of the most horrible things we can imagine, homicide, is up. For kids aged 5-14 homicide mortality went from 0.5 per 100,000 in 1950 to 0.8 per 100,000 in 2005. Overall, however, kids are much safer today than in the 1950s. Accident mortality, for example, is down from 22.7 per 100,000 in 1950 to 6.2 per 100,000 in 2005 (see Caplan’s Selfish Reasons for more details). Maybe buckling up and ocean supervision isn’t so bad. Maybe parents today worry too much. Probably some of both.

There have been big improvements in accident risk since even my childhood years.  I remember those idyllic summers of the 1970s earning a few extra dollars mowing lawns–80,000 amputated fingers, hands and mangled toes and feet every year back then and just 6,000 today. Would I even let me kid use a mower from the 1970s?  Disease mortality is also way down, from 36.6 per 100,000 in 1950 to 8.6 per 100,000 in 2005.  For good or for ill, parental fears have increased even as risks overall have fallen.

There is nothing wrong with a bit of personal nostalgia but when nostalgia is taken for reality it biases our thinking in counter-productive ways. One wonders, for example, what those who look back longingly at the freedom of their childhood would say about Lenore Skenazy and her free-range kids. Skenazy let her fourth-grader take the NYC subway home alone.  Would Manzi applaud Skenazy for giving her kids the same freedoms he had?  Or would he denounce her, as many parents did, for something tantamount to child-abuse?

Wednesday assorted links and non-links

1. New York City parents care about the quality of the peers when choosing a school for their kids, not the effectiveness of the school per se.

2. Secular stagnation vs. technological lull?

3. Dan Klein on Covid and Coase.

4. “Investors are betting, in part, that the Covid-19 crisis accelerates the already growing power of America’s corporate colossuses.” (NYT)

5. NYT covers Sweden.  In my view we still don’t know how well the Swedish experiment is working out, but a continuing verdict of “we still don’t know” does in fact favor Sweden relative to priors.  And Thomas Friedman (NYT) on Sweden.  And update on some Swedish numbers.

6. A reader email on why child abuse is not opposed more passionately: “Basically, I think it comes down to the problem of agency vs structure. The left (including myself) wants to emphasize that problems have large structural components so we need to change the system. However individual heinous acts don’t fit neatly into that paradigm. Plus, child abuse is pervasive enough that it is sort of structural itself, and talking about it can sound like blaming a community or demographic, or hitting close to racism.  No idea why the right doesn’t emphasize it more other than the idea that it’s somehow “traditional”?”

7. Mel Baggs, disability advocate, RIP (NYT).  Formerly known as Amanda Baggs.

8. Quarantine stereotypes (video, funny, some of it).

9. Will colleges lose twenty percent of their student body this year?  Solve for the equilibrium.

10. Jason Furman: “If you had told me we would have a massive pandemic I would have predicted an increase in health spending. Shows why you shouldn’t listen to me. Health spending down 4.9% in Q1 (not annualized). Responsible for nearly 1/2 of the overall GDP decline. Likely down much more in Q2.”  Correctly or not, that makes me feel better about the observed gdp decline.  I am not minimizing the import of the non-Covid extra death toll (which is what exactly? Is it net even positive?), but I already felt bad about that.

Dalrymple on Aleppo

The history of Aleppo is terrible stuff; a long succession of massacres and sieges disappearing into the mists of Syrian pre-history. First held by the Hittites, it was captured in turn by the Philistines, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Persians (again), Byzantines, Arabs, Mongols and Ottomans, each of whom vied to outdo the carnage of their predecessors. The Assyrians were the most imaginatively sadistic: they impaled the town’s menfolk on their spears and feasted for two days while their victims groaned to a slow death.

In between invasions Aleppo was ruled by a succession of aristocratic thugs who exacted outrageous taxes and perfected ingenious ways of bankrupting their burghers.

In all the town’s history there are only two cheering anecdotes. The first tells of the Arabs who captured Aleppo by dressing up as goats and nibbling their way into the city; the second concerns Abraham, who is supposed to have milked his cow on the citadel’s summit. It is not much in ten thousand years of history, especially when the one story ends in a massacre…and the other is a legend, and untrue. It is the result of a misunderstood derivation of the town’s (Arabic) name Haleb, which comes not from the Arabic for milk (halib) but a much older word, possibly Assyrian, connected with the mechanics of child abuse.

From William Dalrymple’s In Xanadu written in 1989…things have not since improved.

Sunday assorted links

1. The culture that is Bethesda, Maryland.

2. Chile’s pension scheme under fire.

3. Child abuse in China: a neglected issue.  The statute of limitations should be longer than two years.  That’s two from The Economist, the current issue is their best of the year to my mind.  Of course you should subscribe.

4. The Mayan-language Ixcanul is perhaps the best movie of the year so far, trailer here, the full movie is here but without subtitles, so brush up on your Mayan or see it on the big screen.

5. This piece illustrates Cowen’s Second Law, yes I know that is a refereed journal and the paper is based on real data but still it is best forgotten or better yet never viewed in the first place.  They needed eleven (!) authors for that one, three of them women it would seem, and four on the team chanted that correlation is not causation.  I wonder how the IRB discussion went.  Less sexually charged is the game of “Diving chess.

6. “Most of the world’s mathematicians fall into just 24 scientific ‘families’, one of which dates back to the fifteenth century. The insight comes from an analysis of the Mathematics Genealogy Project (MGP), which aims to connect all mathematicians, living and dead, into family trees on the basis of teacher–pupil lineages, in particular who an individual’s doctoral adviser was.”  Link here.

What I’ve been reading

1. Lavinia Greenlaw, A Double Sorrow.  A deeply sad but very affecting poem, based loosely on Chaucer’s Troilus and Cressida.  Here is a useful review of the work, and unlike many poems it is very easy to read.

2. Gillen D’Arcy Wood, Tambora: The Eruption that Changed the World.  This 1815 volcanic eruption in Indonesia had a bigger impact on global history than you might think.  Be afraid, be very afraid.

3. Lillian Faderman, The Gay Revolution: The Story of the Struggle.  A good, readable, even-tempered treatment of what the title promises.  I learned a good deal about the 1940s and 50s most of all, recommended.  It is 816 pp. but never a drag.  I am surprised it is not being reviewed more prominently.

4. Andrew Wender Cohen, Contraband: Smuggling and the Birth of the American Century.  A good look at how America really ran its nineteenth century trade policies, full of good anecdotes and examples.

5. Peter Frankopan, The Silk Roads: A New History of the World, it is out already in the UK, which was my source.  My main objection to this book is the overselling in the subtitle.  It is a nice, readable account of Silk Road history and the importance of Eastern land transport for global economic history.  I liked it, but didn’t feel it revised my worldview in any big way or even tried to.  The material on the twentieth century struck me as too familiar.  Here is one useful review.

I read about thirty pages of the new Salman Rushdie.  While it was better than expected, I didn’t feel compelled to continue; it is odd to tell a rationalist story through magical realist means.  Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life is turning out to be one of the year’s sensations.  I’ve read about one hundred pages and seems to be of high quality but its themes don’t grab me (New York City, child abuse), and it is taking too long to become conceptual.  And for another recent novel on child abuse themes, don’t forget the new Rafael Yglesias.

Minority Report for Kiwi youths?

In 2012 economists at the University of Auckland published research establishing clear correlations between family circumstances and incidents of child abuse or neglect. “No one realized we were sitting on such rich data in terms of its predictive power,” says Rhema Vaithianathan, who led the research. “We can find children who are at considerably elevated risk, and we can find them at birth.”

And:

Using data from welfare, education, employment, and housing agencies and the courts, the government identified the most expensive welfare beneficiaries—kids who have at least one close adult relative who’s previously been reported to child safety authorities, been to prison, and spent substantial time on welfare. “There are million-dollar kids in those families,” English says. “By the time they are 10, their likelihood of incarceration is 70 percent. You’ve got to do something about that.”

Moving closer to home:

Jennie Feria, who oversees risk assessment for L.A.’s Department of Children and Family Services, says one idea is to rate families, giving them a number that could be used to identify who’s most at risk in the way lenders rely on credit scores to determine creditworthiness. “The way we may use it, it’s going to be like it’s a FICO score,” Feria says. The information, she says, could be used both to prioritize cases and to figure out who needs extra services. “It’s at the very early stages, because we don’t know how we’re going to use it yet exactly.”

It will be interesting to see how that one develops.  The article is by Josh Eidelson.

Practical gradualism vs. moral absolutism, for immigration and revolution

After reading Alex’s post I was a bit worried I would wake up this morning and find the blog retitled, maybe with a new subtitle too.  Just a few quick points:

1. There is a clear utilitarian case against open borders, namely that it will — in some but not all cases — lower the quality of governance and destroy the goose that lays the golden eggs.  The world’s poor would end up worse off too.  I wonder if Alex will apply his absolutist idea on fully open borders to say Taiwan.

2. Alex’s examples don’t support his case as much as he suggests.  The American Revolution compromised drastically on slavery, among other matters.  (And does Alex even favor that revolution?  Should he?  Can you be a moral absolutist on both that revolution and on slavery?)  American slavery ended through a brutal war, not through the persuasiveness of moral absolutists per se.  The British abolished slavery for off-shore islands, but they were very slow to dismantle colonialism, and would have been slower yet if not for two World Wars and fiscal collapse.  Should the British anti-slavery movement have insisted that all oppressive British colonialism be ended at the same time?  You may argue this one as you wish, but the point is one of empirics, not that the morally absolutist position is generally better.

3. Gay marriage is like “open borders for Canadians.”  I’m for both, but I don’t see many people succeeding with the “let’s privatize marriage” or “let’s allow any consensual marriage” arguments, no matter what their moral or practical merits may be.  Gay marriage advocates were wise to stick with the more practical case, again choosing an interior solution.  Often the crusades which succeed are those which feel morally absolute to their advocates and which also seem like practically-minded compromises to moderates and the undecided.

4. Large numbers of important changes have come quite gradually, including women’s rights, protection against child abuse, and environmentalism, among others.  I don’t for instance think parents should ever hit their children, but trying to make further progress on children’s rights by stressing this principle is probably a big mistake and counterproductive.

5. The strength of tribalist intuitions suggests that the moral arguments for fully open borders will have a tough time succeeding or even gaining basic traction in a world where tribalist sentiments have very often been injected into the level of national politics and where, nationalism, at least in the wealthier countries, is perceived as working pretty well.  The EU is by far the biggest pro-immigration step we’ve seen, which is great, but we’re seeing the limits of how far that can be pushed.  My original post gave some good evidence that a number of countries — though not the United States — are pretty close to the point of backlash from further immigration.  Rather than engaging such evidence, I see many open boarders supporters moving further away from it.

6. In the blogosphere, is moralizing really that which needs to be raised in relative status?

Addendum: Robin Hanson adds comment.

And: Alex responds in the comments:

Some good points but only point number #5 actually addresses my argument. I argued that strong, principled moral arguments are most likely to succeed. Point #5 rests on mood affiliation. I know because having a different mood I read the facts in that point in entirely the opposite way. Namely that it’s amazing that although our moral instincts were built on the tribe we have managed to expand the moral circle far beyond the tribe. Having come so far I see no reason why we can’t continue to expand the moral circle to include all human beings. The open borders of the EU is indeed a triumph. Let’s create the same thing with Canada and then lets join with the EU.

Do not make the mistake (as in point #2) of thinking that the moral argument only succeeds when we make fully moral choices. It also succeeds by pushing people to move in the right direction when other arguments would not do that at all.

Social Security, Savings and Stagnation

Here is Evans, Kotlikoff, and Phillips making the case that transfers to the elderly, such as Social Security and Medicare, have dramatically lowered the US savings rate, the investment rate and real wage growth:

In the lifecycle model, the young, because they have longer remaining lifespans than the old, have much lower propensities to consume out of their remaining lifetime resources. This prediction is strongly confirmed for the US by Gokhale et al (1996).

Hence, in taking from young savers and giving to old spenders, which Uncle Sam has spent six decades doing on a massive scale, the lifecycle model predicts a major decline in US net national saving associated with a major rise in the absolute and relative consumption of the elderly. This is precisely what the data show.

In 1965, the US net national saving was 15.6% of net national income. Last year, it was just 0.9%. And, according to Gokhale et al (1996) and Lee and Mason (2012), the secular demise in US saving has coincided with a spectacular rise in the consumption of older Americans relative to that of younger Americans.

As Feldstein and Horioka (1980) document, US net domestic saving tracks US net national saving. Hence, postwar intergenerational redistribution has not only lowered net national saving; it has also reduced net domestic investment, from 14.0% of national income in 1965 to just 3.6% in 2011. This decline in the rate of net domestic investment is, no doubt, playing a major role in the slow growth in US wages. Indeed, the level of private-sector average real earnings per hour, exclusive of fringe benefits, is lower today than it was 40 years ago.

We call this America’s “fiscal child abuse”. If it continues, it will no doubt shortly drive the national saving rate, which was negative 1.2% in 2009, into permanent negative territory and further reduce net domestic investment and prospects for real wage growth.

The Patrick Melrose novels

I usually find “derelict fiction” unappealing (I don’t for instance enjoy Trainspotting, although I admit its aesthetic merits, nor did I like Drugstore Cowboy; someone should write an essay on the merits and demerits of drug-based fiction), but these books are for me compulsively readable and the prose is more vital than almost anything else being written.  They are by Edward St. Aubyn and you can buy the first four of them here, the final one here.   By no means should you let these novels be defined by their excerpts, but here are a few:

How could he ever hope to give up drugs?  They filled him with such intense emotion.  The sense of power they gave him was, admittedly, rather subjective (ruling the world from under the bedcovers, until the milkman arrived and you thought he was a platoon of stormtroopers come to steal your drugs and splatter your brains across the wall), but then again life was so subjective.

And:

If he got her he would give up drugs forever, or at least have someone really attractive to take them with.  He giggled wildly, wrapping a towel around himself and striking back into his bedroom with renewed vigour.

And:

Fergus took me to the coast and forced me to go snorkeling.  All I can say is that the Great Barrier Reef is the most vulgar thing I’ve ever seen.  It’s one’s worst nightmare, full of frightful loud colours, peacock blues, and impossible oranges all higgledy-piggledy while one’s mask floods.

If you are wondering, drug addiction is a central theme in only some of these books, no more than half actually.  There are also scenes of child abuse, family, and Australia.

*Apollo’s Angels: A History of Ballet*

That is the new book by Jennifer Homans and it is one of the very best non-fiction works of the year, impeccably written and researched.  Here is the excerpt of greatest interest to most economists:

None of the Russian ballet's many admirers, however, would be more central to the future of British ballet than John Maynard Keynes.  Keynes is usually remembered as the preeminent economist of the twentieth century, but he was also deeply involved with classical dance and a key player in creating a thriving British ballet…

For Keynes…classical ballet became an increasingly important symbol of the lost civilization of his youth…With Lydia at his side, Keynes plowed his talent and considerable material resources into theater, painting, and dance, even as he was also playing an ever more prominent role in political and economic affairs on the world stage.

The couple's Bloomsbury home became a meeting place for ballet luminaries (Lydia's friends) and a growing coterie of artists and intellectuals who saw ballet as a vital art…When Diaghilev died in 1929, many of them joined Keynes in establishing the Camargo Society, an influential if short-lived organization devoted to carrying Diaghilev's legacy forward — and to developing a native English ballet.  Lydia was a founding member and performed in many of the society's productions…Keynes was its honorary treasurer.

In the mid-1930s, Keynes also built the Arts Theatre in Cambridge, funding it largely from his own pocket…As Britain sank into the Depression, Keynes's interest in the arts also took on an increasingly political edge: "With what we have spent on the dole in England since the war," he wrote in 1933, "we could have made our cities the greatest works of man in the world."

I did, by the way, very much enjoy Black Swan (the movie), despite its highly synthetic nature, a few disgusting scenes, and its occasional over-the-top mistakes.  So far it's my movie of the year along with Winter's Bone, the Israeli movie Lebanon, and the gory but excellent Danish film, Valhalla Rising.

My favorite recording of Swan Lake (and my favorite classical CD of 2010) is conducted by Mikhail Pletnev (controversial but there is a good review here), who was recently cleared of child abuse charges in Thailand.

Legalization of prostitution

Nicholas Kristof writes:

I changed my mind [on legalization] after looking at the experiences of other countries. The Netherlands formally adopted the legalization model in 2000, and there were modest public health benefits for the licensed prostitutes. But legalization nurtured a large sex industry and criminal gangs that trafficked underage girls, and so trafficking, violence and child prostitution flourished rather than dying out.

As a result, the Netherlands is now backtracking on its legalization model by closing some brothels, and other countries, like Bulgaria, are backing away from that approach.

A few points in response: first, "backtracking" could and should have been written as "still maintained as mostly legal throughout the country."  Second, Germany offers perhaps the best model for legalized prostitution; by the way, here is one odd description of the German practice in Cologne.  It’s not so offputting to make me favor a ban.  Third, we should institute drastically higher penalties and enforcement for traffickers in children and their customers.  Don’t blame adult transactions for that problem or think that is the best resource investment to stop it.  Fourth, legalized prostitution may not be "popular" because it doesn’t appeal to the median voter, least of all to the median female voter.  So the mere popularity of Swedish policy doesn’t make it a success; there is less consensual sex going on! 

We all debate the topic without bringing up the delicate question of the benefits (or lack thereof?) to the customers.  No one wants to say "I think guys should be able to [fill in the blank] more often and more easily," but that’s what at least half the story boils down to.  (The other half is the possibility of female empowerment, etc.)  Such a framing maybe sounds bad to you, but that’s a feeling we need to come to terms with and indeed question. 

I see the costs and benefits of legalization as murky.  Should government attempt to steer women away from the psychological tendencies implanted in them by child abuse?  Indeed, should such steering stop at their choices to become prostitutes?  When doing our cost-benefit analysis, should we count the preferences of the man sitting quietly at home or the preferences of the man as he approaches the end of the act?  How should we count the preferences — if at all — of the bluenoses who don’t like the whole idea of legalization?  After all, there are lots of them and they just don’t want legal prostitution.  These are difficult questions.

When push comes to shove it is fundamentally a moral question and that for me means legalization or at least decriminalization.  Ultimately you are threatening to jail or even shoot someone (should he or she try to leave the jail) because of a particular interpretation you have placed on their consensual sexual acts.  I have to say "no way" to that one.  Is barter a problem too?  Andrew Sullivan pointed out that it is legal to pay two people to have sex and film them and sell the film; it just isn’t legal to pay two people to have sex and simply watch them.  That’s what I call absurd.

Spanking and Sex

Here are some more oddities about the study.  According to this report:

"the study found that 29 percent of the
male and 21 percent of the female students had verbally coerced sex
from another person….The percentages of those who physically forced sex were much lower: 1.7 percent   of the men and 1.2 percent of the women…."

Don’t these percentages seem very high? Especially for the women?

And get this,

"Straus found that 15 percent of the men and 13 percent of the women
had insisted on sex without a condom at least once in the past year.

Using the four-step corporal punishment scale, Straus found that of
the group with the lowest score on the corporal punishment scale, 12.5
percent had insisted on unprotected sex. In contrast, 25 percent of
students in the highest corporal punishment group engaged in this type
of risky sex."

13 percent of the women insisted that the man not use a condom?

More importantly, I believe that there is a causal connection between child abuse (rather than spanking) and later problems of violence but to me a connection between the kid being spanked and later engaging in risky sex is especially suggestive that the connection is a risk-loving person.  Children who take a lot of risks, like running out on to the street a lot, are going to get spanked more.  Later these same children also engage in risky activities.  Not having seen the data I would be willing to bet that spanking is also correlated with skydiving, not wearing your seatbelt, gambling, and many other risky behaviors which are plausible not caused by spanking.

Finally, how about this for a non sequitur of the day:

"because over 90 percent of U.S. parents spank toddlers, the potential
benefits for prevention of sexual and relationship violence is large,”
Straus says."

My Conversation with Ross Douthat

We do another CWT, here is the audio and transcript (link corrected), a very good installment in the series.  Here is part of the summary:

Ross joined Tyler to discuss why he sees Kanye as a force for anti-decadence, the innovative antiquarianism of the late Sir Roger Scruton, the mediocrity of modern architecture, why it’s no coincidence that Michel Houellebecq comes from France, his predictions for the future trajectory of American decadence — and what could throw us off of it, the question of men’s role in modernity, why he feels Christianity must embrace a kind of futurist optimism, what he sees as the influence of the “Thielian ethos” on conservatism, the plausibility of ghosts and alien UFOs, and more.

A welcome relief from Covid-19 talk, though we did cover Lyme disease.  Here is one excerpt:

COWEN: Does the Vatican have too few employees? There’s a Slate article — it claimed in 2012, the Roman Curia has fewer than 3,000 employees. Walmart headquarters at the time had 12,000. If the Church is a quite significant global operation, can it be argued, in fact, that it’s not bureaucratic enough? They don’t actually have state capacity in the sense that state capacity libertarianism might approve of.

DOUTHAT: Right. State capacity libertarianism would disapprove of the Vatican model. And it reflects the reality that media coverage of the Catholic Church doesn’t always reflect, which is that in Catholic ecclesiology and the theory of the institution, bishops are really supposed to be pretty autonomous in governance. And the purpose of Rome is the promotion of missionary work and the protection of doctrine, and it’s not supposed to be micromanaging the governance of the world Church.

Now, I think what we’ve seen over the last 30 years — and it’s been thrown into sharp relief by the sex abuse crisis — is that the modern world may not allow that model to exist; that if you have this global institution that has a celebrity figure at the center of it, who is the focus of endless media attention, you can’t, in effect, get away with saying, “Well, the pope is the pope, but sex abuse is an American problem.”

And to that extent, there is a case that the Church needs more employees and a more efficient and centralized bureaucracy. But then that also coexists with the problem that the model of Catholicism is still a model that was modern in the 16th century. It’s still much more of a court model than a bureaucratic model, and pope after pope has theoretically tried to change this and has not succeeded.

Part of the reality is, as you well know, as a world traveler, the Italians are very good at running courts that exclude outsiders and prevent them from changing the way things are done. Time and again, some Anglo-Saxon or German blunderer gets put in charge of some Vatican dicastery and discovers that, in fact, the reforms he intends are just not quite possible. And you know, in certain ways, that’s a side of decadence that you can bemoan, but in certain ways, you have to respect, too.

Definitely recommended, a very fun CWT with lots of content.  And again, here is Ross’s (recommended) book The Decadent Society: How We Became a Victim of Our Own Success.