Category: Political Science

How Texas is processing its past

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one excerpt:

That [the Texas approach] may feel like dodging crucial questions about historic injustice, but consider Texas’s recent record of job creation and inward migration. The Texas approach has passed a market test by attracting and keeping significant numbers of minorities. By one measure, people of color account for 95% of Texas’s population growth since 2010. That too is a kind of restitution.

A visitor to Texas also can’t help but ponder questions about land rights. It is now common practice for universities and companies, especially in blue states, to make “land acknowledgements,” decrying the thefts of their current real estate from indigenous tribes. Yet there is rarely serious talk about giving those lands back — never mind giving indigenous peoples a share in Harvard’s hedge fund income or Microsoft’s dividends. This supposed acknowledgement mocks the powerlessness of those victimized groups while displaying the arrogance of power.

The Texas approach is more honest. Implicitly at least, the state recognizes that none of its land will be returned to indigenous peoples — but it offers the descendants of those groups the opportunity to shape its future and share in its prosperity, if only by working or owning property there.

Recommended.

Your political views are not your own

In a unique sample of 394 adoptive and biological families with offspring more than 30 years old, biometric modeling revealed significant evidence for genetic and nongenetic transmission from both parents for the majority of seven political-attitude phenotypes. We found the largest genetic effects for religiousness and social liberalism, whereas the largest influence of parental environment was seen for political orientation and egalitarianism. Together, these findings indicate that genes, environment, and the gene–environment correlation all contribute significantly to sociopolitical attitudes held in adulthood, and the etiology and development of those attitudes may be more important than ever in today’s rapidly changing sociopolitical landscape.

Here is the full piece from Emily A. Willoughby, et.al.  Via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

What should I ask Russ Roberts?

I will be doing a podcast with him, specifically focusing on his decision to emigrate to Israel.  Here are the suggestions that Russ solicited from Twitter.  We will release the episode both on EconTalk and on CWT.

So what should I ask him?  Keep in mind this is the Conversation with Russ I want to have…

The next Fed chair

Although the betting markets favor Powell, I’m at the point where I think the Biden people are more likely to throw him overboard for Brainard and blame him for the inflation; if they opt for reappointment, it feels like they have to “own” the inflation  I favor Powell because I think he is less likely to institute a disastrous version of the “central bank digital currency” idea, and because he is better at dealing with Congress and generating support for Fed policies.  He might also be better at allowing crypto innovation to proceed, although that is just a guess, not based on solid information.

p.s. The word is that it will be Powell!

The weirdness of government variation in Covid-19 responses

That is the new Substack post from Richard Hanania, here is one excerpt:

But imagine at the start of the pandemic, someone had said to you “Everyone will face the existence of the same disease, and have access to the exact same tools to fight it. But in some EU countries or US states, people won’t be allowed to leave their house and have to cover their faces in public. In other places, government will just leave people alone. Vast differences of this sort will exist across jurisdictions that are similar on objective metrics of how bad the pandemic is at any particular moment.”

I would’ve found this to be a very unlikely outcome! You could’ve convinced me EU states would do very little on COVID-19, or that they would do lockdowns everywhere. I would not have believed that you could have two neighboring countries that have similar numbers, but one of them forces everyone to stay home, while the other doesn’t. This is the kind of extreme variation in policy we don’t see in other areas.

It’s similar when you look at American jurisdictions.

And:

As the political reaction to COVID-19 has surprised me, I’m still trying to figure it out. But for now I can say it’s shifted my priors in a few ways.

  1. People are more conformist than I would have thought, being willing to put up with a lot more than I expected, at least in Europe and the blue parts of the US.
  2. Americans in Red States are more instinctively anti-elite than I would have thought and can be outliers on all kinds of policy issues relative to the rest of the developed world (I guess I knew that already).
  3. Partisanship is much stronger than I thought. When I saw polls on anti-vax sentiment early in the pandemic, I actually said it would disappear when people would have to make decisions about their own lives and everyone could see vaccines work. This largely didn’t happen. Liberals in Blue States masking their kids outdoors is the other side of this coin. Most “Red/Blue Team Go” behavior has little influence on people’s lives. For example, deciding to vote D or R, or watch MSNBC or Fox, really doesn’t matter for your personal well-being. Not getting vaccinated or never letting your children leave the house does, and I don’t recall many cases where partisanship has been such a strong predictor of behavior that has such radical effects on people’s lives.
  4. Government measures that once seemed extreme can become normalized very quickly.
  5. The kinds of issues that actually matter electorally are a lot more “sticky” than I would have expected. Issues like masks and lockdowns, though objectively much more important than the things people vote on, are not as politically salient as I would have thought. A mask mandate for children eight hours a day strikes me as a lot more important than inflation, but it seems not to be for electoral purposes. If an asteroid was about to destroy earth and Democrats and Republicans had different views on how to stop it, people would just unthinkingly believe whatever their own side told them and it would not change our politics at all.
  6. Democratically elected governments have a lot more freedom than I thought before, especially if elites claim that they are outsourcing decisions to “the science.” Moreover, “the science” doesn’t even have to be that convincing, and nobody will ask obvious questions like how “the science” can allow for radically different policy responses in neighboring jurisdictions without much of a difference in results. This appears true everywhere in the developed world but in Red State America, where people really hate experts, regardless of whether they’re right or wrong.

You should all be getting Richard’s Substack.  Of all the “new thinkers” on the Right, he is the one who most combines extreme smarts and first-rate work ethic, with non-conformism thrown in to boot.  Read him!

Where to put your nuclear arsenal

I’ve been thinking about the article on MAD you linked to: Haller & Fry’s “The Math is Bad”.  Their point — that you have to run the game theory for the case where a surprise first launch has already occurred — is interesting.

I agree MAD looks bad in that scenario.  But I think the authors misunderstand why.  And therefore their proposed solution — harden & build more capability — won’t work.

From a MAD point of view it’s incredibly stupid to put all your Minuteman missiles in a vast empty area no one cares about.  Obviously the better placement would be to intermix the missiles with major urban centers.

There’s a reason the Minutemen aren’t scattered about New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Houston, et all, and it’s not because our 1950’s leaders were stupid.  It’s because we’re the good guys (or at least we were), and the good guys are inherently at a disadvantage when it comes to fighting.

It is at least possible to imagine a US president, facing either confirmed missiles in the air or the immediate aftermath of a successful first strike on the minutemen, might ask themself, at least for a moment, “what would be best for (my grandchildren) humanity?” rather than resignedly push the red button whilst saying “even though this won’t help anything, MAD requires I now launch more missiles.”

From that perspective, it really doesn’t matter how formidable our second-strike capacity is.  Our enemies will *always* question our willingness to launch a return strike (on no doubt much messier targets).  Indeed, during the cold war, even the allegedly inhuman Soviets worried about the human element, creating and possibly even implementing the famous Doomsday machine referenced in Dr. Strangelove in an attempt to prevent some wishy-washy comrade from choosing, in the heat of the moment, to avoid exterminating all life on the planet.

That doesn’t mean MAD is invalid, however.

There is another important component to the deterrent that Haller and Fry don’t consider: it may be that use of nuclear weapons even with no return strike is still not a survivable event.  Even if fallout/nuclear winter effects prove mild, a first strike on even the smallest scale would upend the world.  There is no leadership in any nation (save possibly North Korea) that could reasonably expect to survive the consequent metaphorical fallout.

This was put a little more pithily in the 1995 film “Crimson Tide,” when Denzel Washington says to Gene Hackman, “In the nuclear world, the true enemy is war itself.”

That is from Andy Lewicky.

Increased politicization and homogeneity in NSF grants

  1. This report uses natural language processing to analyze the abstracts of successful grants from 1990 to 2020 in the seven fields of Biological Sciences, Computer & Information Science & Engineering, Education & Human Resources, Engineering, Geosciences, Mathematical & Physical Sciences, and Social, Behavioral & Economic Sciences.
  2. The frequency of documents containing highly politicized terms has been increasing consistently over the last three decades. As of 2020, 30.4% of all grants had one of the following politicized terms: “equity,” “diversity,” “inclusion,” “gender,” “marginalize,” “underrepresented,” or “disparity.” This is up from 2.9% in 1990. The most politicized field is Education & Human Resources (53.8% in 2020, up from 4.3% in 1990). The least are Mathematical & Physical Sciences (22.6%, up from 0.9%) and Computer & Information Science & Engineering (24.9%, up from 1.5%), although even they are significantly more politicized than any field was in 1990.
  3. At the same time, abstracts in most directorates have been becoming more similar to each other over time. This arguably shows that there is less diversity in the kinds of ideas that are getting funded. This effect is particularly strong in the last few years, but the trend is clear over the last three decades when a technique based on word similarity, rather than the matching of exact terms, is used.

That is from a new CSPI (Richard Hanania’s group) study by Leif Rasmussen.

Christopher DeMuth on national conservatism

I thought the recent WSJ Op-Ed by DeMuth was one of this year’s more important essays.  DeMuth argues that conservatism needs a new [and also older], less libertarian, less cosmopolitan turn.  Here is his core message:

When the leftward party in a two-party system is seized by such radicalism, the conservative instinct for moderation is futile and may be counterproductive. Yet many conservative politicians stick with it, promising to correct specific excesses that have stirred popular revulsion. Republicans will win some elections that way—but what will they do next? National conservatives recognize that in today’s politics, the excesses are the essence. Like Burke after 1789, we shift to opposing revolution tout court.

Why national conservatism? Have you noticed that almost every progressive initiative subverts the American nation? Explicitly so in opening national borders, disabling immigration controls, and transferring sovereignty to international bureaucracies. But it also works from within—elevating group identity above citizenship; fomenting racial, ethnic and religious divisions; disparaging common culture and the common man; throwing away energy independence; defaming our national history as a story of unmitigated injustice; hobbling our national future with gargantuan debts that will constrain our capacity for action.

The left’s anti-nationalism is another sharp break with the past.

Do read the whole thing, as they say.  I cannot summarize his entire argument, but here are some points of push back:

1. It is a mistake to start by defining one’s view in opposition to some other set of views, in this case progressivism.  You will end up with something limited and defensive and ultimately uninspiring.

2. Unlike many classical liberals, I’ve long made my peace with nationalism, but for pragmatic reasons.  I view it as morally arbitrary, but also as the only possible solid foundation for a stably globalized world, given the psychologically collectivist tendencies of most humans.  DeMuth opposes national conservatism to globalization for the most part, but strong nations and strong globalizations go together.  There is talk of “global markets that eclipse the nation and divide its citizens,” but the case needs to be stronger and more specific than that.  National security arguments aside (yes we Americans should produce more chips domestically), which exactly are the global markets that are eclipsing us?  And is it global markets that are polarizing us?  Really?  Which ones exactly and how?

3. Virtually every critic of globalization wants to pick and choose.  There is plenty of “globalization for me, not for thee” in these ideological arenas.  (In similar fashion, I don’t quite get the Peter Thiel bitcoin > globalization point of view….crypto has been quite international pretty much from the beginning, and often at least in spirit directed against national monies.)  And which exactly is the national body we are going to trust with micro-managing globalization?  Some DC bureaucracy that operates as effectively as the CDC and is filled 90% or more with Democrats?  From a national conservative point of view, or for that matter from my point of view, why do that?

4. For better or worse, Biden is far more of a nationalist than DeMuth makes him out to be.  “Confiscating vaccine patents” is the only example given of this supposed excess cosmopolitanism, but hey just look at the allocation of those third doses, something Biden has pushed hard himself.  On many matters of foreign policy, including China, the differences between Trump and Biden are tiny.  And Europe isn’t exactly happy with Biden either.

5. The policy recommendations toward the end of the piece are underwhelming.  Common carrier regulation to prevent Facebook from taking down controversial opinions is the first suggestion.  Whether or not you agree with that proposal, the major social media companies were not doing much in the way of “take downs” as recently as ten years ago.  To return to that state of affairs, but with the whole thing enforced by government (“Some DC bureaucracy that operates as effectively as perhaps the CDC and also is filled 90% or more with Democrats?”), is…uninspiring.

6. The next set of policy recommendations are “big projects” for cybersecurity and quantum computing.  Again, whether or not you agree with those specific ideas, I don’t see why they need national conservatism as a foundation.  You might just as easily come to those positions through a Progress Studies framework, among other views.  And is a centralized approach really best for cybersecurity?  How secure were the systems of the Office of Personnel Management?  Doesn’t the firming up of all those soft targets require a fairly decentralized approach?

7. DeMuth refers to our “once-great” museums as deserving of revitalization.  I would agree that the visual arts of painting and sculpture were more culturally central in earlier decades than today.  But putting aside the National Gallery of Art in D.C. (in a state of radical decline…maybe blame the national Feds?), and the immediate problems of the pandemic, American museums are pretty awesome.  MOMA for instance is far better than it used to be.  If there has been a problem, it is that 9/11 made foreign loan contracts for art exhibits more difficult to pull off, in part for reasons of insurance.  In other words, the contraction of globalization has hurt American museums.

8. I wonder how he feels about crypto, Web 3.0, and the Metaverse?  I think it is perfectly fine to regard the correct opinions on those topics as still unsettled, but is national conservatism really such a great starting point?  Aren’t we going to rather rapidly neglect the potential upside from those innovations?  Shouldn’t we instead try to start by understanding the technologies, and then see if a nationalist point of view on them is going to make sense?

More generally, if you are going to do the NatCon thing, how about embracing the tech companies as America’s great national champions?  Embracing them as your only hope for countering left-wing MSM?  Somehow that is missing from DeMuth’s vision.

So I liked the piece, but I say it is a rearguard action, destined to fail.  We need a more positive, more dynamic approach to a free society of responsible individuals, and that is probably going to mean an ongoing expansion of globalization and also a fairly new and indeed somewhat unsettled understanding of what the nation is going to consist of.  What DeMuth calls “empirical libertarianism,” as he associates with Adam Smith, I still take as a better starting point.

Negative-sum games

When Vespa soror — giant hornets found in parts of Asia — attack a honeybee hive, they kill as many bees as possible, decapitating them and scouring the hive to harvest their young.

To protect their hives from such a catastrophe, some species of honeybees have developed an arsenal of defensive techniques. They may forage for other animals’ feces and place it at their nest’s entrance to repel predators, a tactic called “fecal spotting.” Or, in a technique known as “balling,” a cluster of honeybees may engulf a hornet, vibrate their flight muscles and produce enough heat to kill the enemy.

Now, a new study published in Royal Society Open Science says honeybees have another defense: screaming.

More precisely, the bees in the study produced a noise known as an “antipredator pipe” — not something that comes out of their mouths, but rather a sound they produce by vibrating their wings, raising their abdomens and exposing a gland used to release a certain kind of pheromone.

Here is the full story.

How to Increase Effective Altruism

Caviola, Schubert and Greene have a good review of the reasons why effective and ineffective altruism attract donations. First, they note the large gains from making altruism more effective.

A US$100 donation can save a person in the developing world from trachoma, a disease that causes blindness [1]. By contrast, it costs US$50 000 to train a guide dog to help a blind person in the developed world. This large difference in impact per dollar is not unusual. According to expert estimates, the most effective charities are often 100 times more effective than typical charities [2].

…Most research on charitable giving focuses on the amounts that donors give [4]. However, if the societal goal of charitable giving is to improve human (or animal) well-being, it is probably more important to focus on the effectiveness of giving….you can double your impact by doubling the amount that you give to typical charities, but you can multiply your impact by a factor of ten, 100, or even 1000 by choosing to support more effective charities [2].

The authors then consider a number of cognitive factors or biases that allow or encourage ineffective altruism. For example, people tend to give to charities that they are emotionally connected with regardless of effectiveness and they also like to split donations across multiple charities in part because they have scope neglect (“a single death is a tragedy, a million deaths are a statistic.” to quote Stalin who correctly identified the principle even though he was more concerned about how to get away with killing millions than saving millions).

One particular feature of the paper that I like is that instead of simply advocating overcoming these biases they think about ways to use them. For example, you can’t stop people giving to ineffective but emotionally attractive charities but because people like to split and don’t pay attention to scope you can get them to split their donation with an effective charity.

…people tend to support charities that are emotionally appealing, paying little attention to effectiveness. However, there is evidence that many people do care about effectiveness and that information about effectiveness can make giving more effective [2,21]. Combining these insights suggests a new strategy to increase the effectiveness of charitable giving: many donors may be amenable to splitting their donations between an emotionally appealing charity and a highly effective charity, especially if provided with effectiveness information.

This strategy can work especially well if you combine it with matching funds or funds to “cover overhead” which are given by a relatively small number of rich people who can be swayed by philosophical arguments in favor of effective altruism.

Hat tip: Steve Stewart-Williams.

Mobile internet and political polarization

So far this paper is my favorite of the job market papers I have seen this year, and it is by Nikita Melnikov of Princeton.  Please do read each and every sentence of the abstract carefully, as each and every sentence offers interesting and substantive content:

How has mobile internet affected political polarization in the United States? Using Gallup Daily Poll data covering 1,765,114 individuals in 31,499 ZIP codes between 2008 and 2017, I show that, after gaining access to 3G internet, Democratic voters became more liberal in their political views and increased their support for Democratic congressional candidates and policy priorities, while Republican voters shifted in the opposite direction. This increase in polarization largely did not take place among social media users. Instead, following the arrival of 3G, active internet and social media users from both parties became more pro-Democratic, whereas
less-active users became more pro-Republican. This divergence is partly driven by differences in news consumption between the two groups: after the arrival of 3G, active internet users decreased their consumption of Fox News, increased their consumption of CNN, and increased their political knowledge. Polarization also increased due to a political realignment of voters: wealthy, well-educated people became more liberal; poor, uneducated people—more conservative.

My read of these results (not the author’s to be clear!) is that the mobile internet polarized the Left, but not so much the Right.  What polarized the Right was…the polarization of the Left, and not the mobile internet.

And please do note this sentence: “This increase in polarization largely did not take place among social media users.”  It seems that on-line versions of older school media did a lot of the work.

Here are further papers by Melnikov.

Solve for the Haitian equilibrium

…now a powerful gang is trying something new: Holding the entire country hostage.

Since Sunday, Haiti’s largest gang has blocked access to the country’s largest fuel terminal, which provides 70% of gasoline supplies across the country, causing a severe shortage of fuel in the capital and several other cities, according to union leaders, government officials and gang members.

In a radio interview late Monday, Jimmy Cherizier, a former policeman who is the head of the so-called G9 coalition of criminal groups, said his men would prevent fuel from being distributed from the terminal until the government handed over $50 million and Prime Minister Ariel Henry stepped down.

Here is more from the WSJ, via Adam Tooze.  #TheGreatUnraveling

Sex Differences in Work Aspirations

Another important paper from Stoet and Geary

We investigated sex differences in 473,260 adolescents’ aspirations to work in things-oriented (e.g., mechanic), people-oriented (e.g., nurse), and STEM (e.g., mathematician) careers across 80 countries and economic regions using the 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). We analyzed student career aspirations in combination with student achievement in mathematics, reading, and science, as well as parental occupations and family wealth. In each country and region, more boys than girls aspired to a things-oriented or STEM occupation and more girls than boys to a people-oriented occupation. These sex differences were larger in countries with a higher level of women’s empowerment. We explain this counter-intuitive finding through the indirect effect of wealth. Women’s empowerment is associated with relatively high levels of national wealth and this wealth allows more students to aspire to occupations they are intrinsically interested in. Implications for better understanding the sources of sex differences in career aspirations and associated policy are discussed.

…it has been four generations since Miner’s [10] assessment of adolescents’ occupational interests and core sex differences have not changed much, despite dramatic social and economic changes since that time. Boys continue to express a greater interest in blue-collar and white-collar things-oriented occupations than do girls, and girls continue to show a greater interest in people-oriented
occupations.

…Policy makers have regularly expressed a desire to reduce the number of students choosing stereotypical careers (e.g., [49]) or to increase the number of girls aspiring to and women entering technical occupations, especially STEM occupations [22]. The results of this study and related ones reveal a policy-relevant conundrum [3,4,6,50]. Generally speaking, more developed and gender equal nations are better than less developed nations in attracting boys to more established things-oriented (often blue-collar) occupations, but they fail to attract girls to these areas. This problem is also occurring for the subset of things-oriented STEM occupations. In fact, the problem for STEM is even more profound, given that interest in STEM declines for both boys and
girls in more developed, innovative, and gender equal nations.

See also my previous post Do Boys Have a Comparative Advantage in Math and Science?

Hat tip: Steve Stewart-Williams.

Don’t overpredict a negative future

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one bit:

A second question would be whether there is evidence to support the contention that Americans have become more negative overall. I am doubtful. Do fans of the Boston Red Sox hate the New York Yankees more than they used to? It’s not obvious that the answer is yes. What about animosity between, say, Protestants and Catholics? That’s probably a good deal weaker. There is almost certainly less homophobia, too, in addition to many other forms of prejudice. There are other indicators of progress; the surge in the number of Americans starting new businesses, for example, is hardly a sign of pessimism.

And:

The good news is that shifts in national moods come relatively frequently, and they are difficult to forecast. In the 1990s, for instance, few people forecast our current predicament of such an extreme polarized emotional opposition. Negative moods do not necessarily feed upon each other and become worse, as shown by the broader currents of history. Civilization has been around for thousands of years, and the U.S. for a few hundred years, in both cases with many ups and downs. If negative moods inevitably lead to nothing more than further collapse or destruction, it is hard to see how we would have come so far.

It is even possible that national moods are characterized by mean-reversion — namely, that negative moods tend to turn more positive, and vice versa. That would imply we could look forward to better moods ahead. That is hardly gospel, but I haven’t seen anyone with a better theory.

And:

So, to sum up a few of the basic facts under this worldview: Americans are more negative and more oppositional in some important ways, especially around politics. This is not a good development. Yet — especially when you look beyond politics — the national mood is by no means entirely sour or hopeless. National moods also change frequently, and in unpredictable ways. There will be many positive developments in coming decades, most of all in biotechnology.

The negativity, in other words, is contained, and it could change swiftly and without notice. I don’t know about you, but I find this outlook liberating — or even, dare I say, a reason for some modest optimism.

The mention of MR commentators, however, is behind the paywall.

The greatest book(s) on Africa ever written?

Yes, I am talking about the new seven-volume set Architectural Guide to Sub-Saharan Africa.  I am now about halfway through volume II, and will read the rest, albeit slowly.  The books have plenty of text and also a lot of quality photographs.  While they are easy to read, they are not actually fast going.

These books have dozens of authors, so a systematic review misses the point. But just think: do you need to read yet another largely political history of Africa, detailing the conflict in Biafra, the fall of apartheid in South Africa, and the Mugabe dictatorship in Zimbabwe?  At what I hope are your current margins, what exactly are you going to learn?

Should you instead read seven volumes about how Africans (and sometimes non-Africans) have built Africa?  Its homes.  Its businesses.  Its government buildings and non-profit centers.  Its churches and mosques.  What Africa looks like and why.  Every significant discussion is accompanied by a relevant photograph.

Is that not a more important learning?

Where else can you find a sub-chapter “Beyond Design: Finnish Architects in Senegal”?  Which are in fact the most notable vistas in the Nouakchott fish market?  Why does it seem that no building in Mauretania is next to any other building in Mauretania?  (I am reading the West Africa volume, obviously.)

Definitely recommended, a notable achievement.