Category: Political Science
Note that it is not necessary to approve of all U.S. cultural exports to view the spread of wokeism as a net positive for the world. I do not like either Big Macs or Marvel movies, for instance. But at the end of the day I think American culture is a healthy, democratizing, liberating influence, so I want to extend it.
As the motivational speakers like to say, Winners win! And woke is right now one of America’s global winners. Part of what makes America great, and could help to make the rest of the world greater yet, is accepting a certain amount of semi-stupid, least-common-denominator culture.
It drives conservatives and libertarians crazy that woke ideas often have more purchase in the private sector than in the public sector. Private universities, for example, seem “more woke” than public universities.
Still, you read it here first (or maybe not): The halls of power in Washington just aren’t that woke! They are nothing like Twitter or Google or Yale University.
Yes, many woke opponents cite the role of government and the fear of lawsuits as forces driving woke behavior and corporate attachment to wokeism. And surely they have a point. Yet in much of the corporate and nonprofit world, wokeism is not merely a reflexive defense against lawsuits. It is embraced with enthusiasm.
Wokeism has passed a market test that has been going on for decades.
And in sum:
The arguments have been so fully joined because they are about how to define success, which is the fundamental American ideology. I believe such debates are not only healthy but also necessary. I also believe that the ideology of success will endure, though it may take less familiar forms over time. In some ways wokeism is what a feminized, globalized version of 21st century U.S. triumphalism looks like.
You don’t have to like that. But you may have to get used to it.
Recommended, do read the whole thing.
“Barbarism” is perhaps best understood as a recurring syndrome among peripheral societies in response to the threats and opportunities presented by more developed neighbors. This article develops a mathematical model of barbarigenesis—the formation of “barbarian” societies adjacent to more complex societies—and its consequences, and applies the model to the case of Europe in the first millennium CE. A starting point is a game (developed by Hirshleifer) in which two players allocate their resources either to producing wealth or to fighting over wealth. The paradoxical result is that a richer and potentially more powerful player may lose out to a poorer player, because the opportunity cost of fighting is greater for the former. In a more elaborate spatial model with many players, the outcome is a wealth-power mismatch: central regions have comparatively more wealth than power, peripheral regions have comparatively more power than wealth. In a model of historical dynamics, a wealth-power mismatch generates a long-lasting decline in social complexity, sweeping from more to less developed regions, until wealth and power come to be more closely aligned. This article reviews how well this model fits the historical record of late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages in Europe both quantitatively and qualitatively. The article also considers some of the history left out of the model, and why the model doesn’t apply to the modern world.
Talking with Ezra is always both fun and enlightening for me, here is his partial summary of the episode:
So we begin this conversation by discussing the case for and against economic growth, but we also get into lots of other things: why Cowen thinks the great stagnation in technology is coming to an end; the future of technologies like A.I., crypto, fourth-generation nuclear and the Chinese system of government; the problems in how we fund scientific research; what the right has done to make government both ineffective and larger; why Cowen is skeptical of universal pre-K (and why I’m not); whether I overestimate the dangers of polarization; the ways in which we’re getting weirder; the long-term future of human civilization; why reading is overrated and travel is underrated; how to appreciate classical music and much more.
This paper presents evidence from parallel field experiments in China, Germany, and the United States. We contacted the mayor’s office in over 6,000 cities asking for information about procedures for starting a new business. Chinese and German cities responded to 36-37 percent requests; American cities responded to only 22 percent of requests. We randomly varied the text of the request to identify factors that affect the likelihood of receiving a response. American and German cities were more responsive to requests from citizens than foreigners; Chinese cities did not discriminate on this basis. Chinese cities were more responsive to requests from men than women; German cities did not discriminate on this basis and American cities had a slight bias in favor of women. Cities in all three countries were more responsive to requests associated with starting a construction business than a green business, but especially Chinese cities. Chinese cities were more responsive when the mayor was being considered for promotion than after a promotion decision, suggesting the importance of promotion incentives in China, but low responsiveness to green investment suggests limited incentives for environmental improvement. We argue that the response patterns are consistent with simple political economy theories of democracy and autocracy.
That is by Ekkehard A. Köhler, John G. Matsusaka, and Yanhui Wu. Via the excellent Kevin Lewis.
I did David Cutler and Ed sequentially, based on their new co-authored book, here is the joint episode but there is also a separate link concerning Cutler. Here is one excerpt from the general summary:
They joined Tyler for a special joint episode to discuss why healthcare outcomes are so correlated with education, whether the health value of Google is positive or negative, why hospital price transparency is so difficult to achieve, how insurance coding systems reimburse sickness over health improvement, why the U.S. quit smoking before Europe, the best place in America to get sick, the risks that come from over-treatment, the possible upsides of more businesses moving out of cities, whether productivity gains from remote work will remain high, why the older parts of cities always seem to be more beautiful, whether urban schools will ever improve, why we shouldn’t view Rio de Janeiro’s favelas as a failure, how 19th century fights to deal with contagious diseases became a turning point for governance, Miami’s prospects as the next tech hub, what David and Ed disagree on, and more.
And from my exchange with Ed:
COWEN: Let’s start with a simple question. All this enthusiasm about cities and agglomeration benefits — the pandemic comes along. A lot of people transition to work from a distance, and then we see big measured productivity gains. What has gone on there?
GLAESER: It reminds us that for many jobs, in a static sense, you can do this long-distance. You can make things work. I think many of us found this. We wrote this book in eight months over the pandemic year, distinctly away from each other, partially because there were no distractions, and all that was good.
However, you also need to recognize the limits of long-distance living. The most important of those limits is just it’s much less fun. It’s much less joyful, but while it seems as if it’s fine for static productivity, it seems distinctly more problematic for people learning and for onboarding new talent.
Let me just give you two types of studies, one of which is we have the call center studies. The father of that was the Nick Bloom paper, which was a randomized control trial in China. A more modern version is done by our students, Natalia Emanuel and Emma Harrington, which looks into American call centers.
Both of them find the same thing in terms of static productivity. If anything, it goes up, but the workers who go remote are much less likely to be promoted in both studies. One interpretation of this is that promotion in the call center work means that you actually are given the job of handling more difficult calls.
How would your boss know that you are good at handling difficult calls if they weren’t in the same room with you? How would you learn how to do those difficult calls if you weren’t around other people? So while the static productivity remains, you lose the dynamic benefits of being around other people.
Second piece of evidence it comes from Burning Glass Technologies and new hires. Even though Microsoft tells us that its programmers were just as productive, overall, new hires for programmers were down 42 percent between November 2019 and November 2020. Firms were clearly unwilling to take the same kind of risks of hiring new workers that they couldn’t inculcate in their corporate culture or screen them properly, or do any of those other things.
Even though measured productivity did well during the pandemic, there were still lots of disruptions. In particular, many younger workers who came of age really lost out as a result of this.
COWEN: If work from a distance goes fine in the short run, what’s the cross-sectional prediction about where it will persist in the future? Is it firms facing bankruptcy, firms with immediate projects now, possibly start-ups who will then later transition to all being together in one big happy family, but they’re afraid they’re going to fail before then? What should we expect?
GLAESER: I think we should expect young workers to be more likely to be brought together. Young firms, as well, because you’re very much at this learning, creative phase. I think the optimal work-from-home strategy is a couple of partners who are in an accounting practice and have decided they know each other perfectly well and are delighted to Zoom it in from wherever they are.
I think, unquestionably, working from home will remain a part of the economy. It may well be many workers end up spending 20 percent of their time working from home, even if they’re part of a generally full-time job. But for younger workers, for firms that are just getting started, I think being live is likely to continue being a major part of the work environment.
It also depends a lot on what your home environment is like. If you’re like us — if you are a middle-aged professor who’s likely to have a comfortable home office, and maybe even not having kids at home anymore, certainly not kids who are crying all the time at home anymore — working at home is a lot more pleasant than if you’re a 23-year-old and live in a studio apartment in Somerville or New York or London.
The Chinese government has ordered a boycott of “sissy pants” celebrities as it escalates a fight against what it sees as a cultural import that threatens China’s national strength.
In a directive issued on Thursday, China’s TV watchdog said entertainment programs should firmly reject the “deformed aesthetics” of niangpao, a derogatory term that refers to effeminate men.
The order came as Beijing tightens control over the country’s entertainment industry, taking aim at an explosion of TV and streaming shows that hold increasing sway over pop culture and the youth.
Young, delicate-looking men who display gentle personalities and act in boys’ love dramas have amassed large fan bases mostly comprising women. Many of them, like Xiao Zhan and Wang Yibo, are China’s top-earning celebrities.
They came in sharp contrast with the older generation of male stars, who were expected to sing revolutionary songs and play intrepid, aggressive soldiers defending the country from foreign enemies.
But the more gender-neutral aesthetics have come under criticism from conservative voices in society. Some officials and parents fear the less macho men on TV would cause young men to lose their masculinity and therefore threaten the country’s development.
“If Gavin were recalled, that’d be disastrous for housing policy in this state,” Brian Hanlon, the president of California YIMBY, a pro-housing group, told me. “The Legislature, I believe, could override Larry Elder’s vetoes on key bills. But all of these hard-fought housing bills that we are not passing with a supermajority cannot survive an Elder veto. All that would die.”
“I also think that if the recall succeeds, in part due to housing, the overall situation in Sacramento would just be chaotic,” Hanlon added later. “It’ll be a lost year as Democrats and the Legislature work to retake the governor’s office in 2022.”
Metcalf, the former head of the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development, has moved from dismayed to impressed by Newsom’s record on housing. “We’re beginning to see Newsom find the levers to pull,” he said. “We’re seeing him figure out how to get the Legislature to do what he wants. We’re just getting there with Newsom, which would make it very painful to lose him now.”
There is much more at the NYT link.
I appeared on his podcast, and we discussed trust, Jamaica and Trinidad, what you can learn from visiting funerals for five years, what I want for my non-funeral and why, social media and outreach, neurodiversity and autism, the importance of Kant and Hegel, and more.
Fox’s Tucker Carlson, the most important nationalist voice in America, seemed to sympathize with the gender politics of Taliban-supporting Afghans. “They don’t hate their own masculinity,” he said shortly after the fall of Kabul. “They don’t think it’s toxic. They like the patriarchy. Some of their women like it too. So now they’re getting it all back. So maybe it’s possible that we failed in Afghanistan because the entire neoliberal program is grotesque.” (By “neoliberalism” he seems to mean social liberalism, not austerity economics.)
From Michelle Goldberg (NYT), that in a nutshell is the case for the feminization of society, which I see as bringing strongly positive net benefits for both men and women, in most but by no means all cases.
Do note that if you ever see me describing this feminization in not entirely glowing terms, that is part of my desire to give you the entire unvarnished picture, as I would with most other topics. (The most common reading mistake you can make in these parts is to over-infer an entire mood affiliation from a single post.)
When it comes to feminization, I also think sometimes of my grade and junior high school gym teacher, Mr. O (I will omit his full name, but in fact we also called him “Mr. O”). He acted like a tough guy, but in fact was just a…grade school gym teacher. Nonetheless he acted as if he was auditioning for the role of Patton in a Hollywood movie.
He smoked his cigarillos (?) in that kind of plastic thing-y, like the Penguin did on the original Batman show.
If a smaller or less athletic kid took a tough spill, or was picked on by the others, he would say “Suck it up, kid!”, with little sympathy. (If you are wondering, the worst he ever said to me was “That was a stupid foul, kid,” in a fifth-grade basketball contest. So I didn’t bear a personal grudge against him.)
He seemed to love the game of Bombardment, as in fact I did too. (I still remember being one of the last two men standing, but losing to Jimmy Gravelis, who caught my too-weak toss.)
He was a Roman Catholic and a veteran of the Korean War. He seemed to stare too long at the boys entering and leaving the shower, after the exercise period of gym. But no one really questioned this.
Even as a kid, I thought he was a bit…sick and also over the top. In some ways though he was a good teacher and he definitely maintained discipline. Kids were afraid of him. And he toughened them up for the world to come.
Still, at the end of the day I am not wishing to return to the cultural ascent of Mr. O.
I would rather live in a more feminized world, even if I still miss Bombardment. But if you are not a fan of this new arrangement…hey, “Suck it up kid!”
Addendum: You might argue that I had the best of both worlds, namely to grow up in the “tougher” society, but live most of my life in the more feminized society — maybe so!
The subtitle is Constitutionalism in the American Revolution, and of course self-recommending. Here is one excerpt:
The breadth and depth of popular interest in the Constitution in 1787-1788 was remarkable. The towns of Massachusetts, for example, elected 370 delegates to the state’s ratifying convention, of whom 364 attended. Most were eager to meet and discuss the Constitution. It took six days for the delegates from Bath, Maine (then part of Massachusetts), to make their way south across rivers and through snow to Boston. The people of Massachusetts believed they were involved, as the little town of Oakham told its delegates, in deciding an issue of “the greatest importance that ever came before any Class of Men on this Earth.”
Many expected the electoral college to work as a nominating body in which no one normally would get a majority of electoral votes; therefore, most elections would take place in the House of Representatives among the top five candidates, with each state’s congressional delegation voting as a unit.
You can buy it here.
Here is an essay by Kathryn Robinson, from 2006 (!), via “Chad”, here is the opening excerpt:
Hang around the zeitgeist long enough and a pattern will emerge. You flip on the TV and there’s a young woman announcing that Eagle Hardware is her social life. Change the station and see the newest Nike ad: no more the command to Just Do It, but now a ringing paean to self-esteem: I Can. Maybe another station will be broadcasting OlympicGames human-interest stories; maybe the winning American wrestler will be weeping lavishly.
Or maybe the vice president of the United States will be the one weeping, standing on the dais of the Democratic convention relating the tragedy of his sister’s lung cancer. You open a men’s magazine and read about the Nine Steps to a Toned Derriere. You log on to the Internet where designer Donna Karan reports that the top fashion trends are not wide lapels or sheer skirts, but “Compassion. Caring. Embracing.” You go to church and pray to God the Mother. You flee to a restaurant for a scotch and a steak, but find yourself in a cafe with wine and low-fat beefalo.
You wonder when we all became female.
If you cast a critical eye backward, you will see that it’s happened over the last three decades, in a shift as gradual and inevitable as the changing tide, surging over everything from business, education, and religion to politics, fashion, and interpersonal relations. One of the great cultural revolutions of our time, it’s also been as invisible as the air we breathe, shifting the default position of our behavior to “feminine” as imperceptibly as our evolution toward light eating, self-empowerment, and public intimacy…
The upshot, discovered in that campaign and exploited ever since: men vote for policies, women vote for symbols. Handlers found that where men’s voter turnout is dictated by political attentiveness, women’s voting has increased more rapidly than their interest or knowledge warrant. Therefore, women are more susceptible to campaigns waged through potent emotional symbols. Sick of the mudslinging and soundbiting that have since come to characterize political campaigning? Blame feminization.
Way too much generalization of course, that one is from Seattle Weekly (!…but where else?). Interesting throughout.
Here is the audio and transcript. Here is part of the summary:
Zeynep joined Tyler to discuss problems with the media and the scientific establishment, what made the lab-leak hypothesis unacceptable to talk about, how her background in sociology was key to getting so many things right about the pandemic, the pitfalls of academic contrarianism, what Max Weber understood about public health crises, the underrated aspects of Kemel Mustapha’s regime, how Game of Thrones interested her as a sociologist (until the final season), what Americans get wrong about Turkey, why internet-fueled movements like the Gezi protests fizzle out, whether Islamic fundamentalism is on the rise in Turkey, how she’d try to persuade a COVID-19 vaccine skeptic, whether public health authorities should ever lie for the greater good, why she thinks America is actually less racist than Europe, how her background as a programmer affects her work as a sociologist, the subject of her next book, and more.
Here is one excerpt:
COWEN: Max Weber — overrated or underrated as a sociologist?
TUFEKCI: Part of the reason he’s underrated is because he writes in that very hard-to-read early 19th-century writing, but if you read Max Weber, 90 percent of what you want to understand about the current public health crisis is there in his sociology. Not just him, but sociology organizations and how that works. He’s good at that. I would say underrated, partly because it’s very hard to read. It’s like Shakespeare. You need the modern English version, conceptually, for more people to read it.
I would say almost all of sociology is underrated in how dramatically useful it is. Just ask me any time. Early on, I knew we were going to have a pandemic, completely based on sociology of the moment in early January, before I knew anything about the virus because they weren’t telling us, but you could just use sociological concepts to put things together. Max Weber is great at most of them and underrated.
COWEN: Kemal Mustafa — overrated or underrated?
TUFEKCI: Why? My grandmother — she was 12 or 13 when she was in the Mediterranean region — Central Asia, but Mediterranean region, very close to the Mediterranean. She was born the year the Turkish Republic had been founded, 1923, and she was 13 or so. She was just about to be married off, but the republic was a little over a decade — same age as her. They created a national exam to pick talented girls like her. The ones that won the exam got taken to Istanbul to this elite, one of the very few boarding high schools for girls.
The underrated part isn’t just that such a mechanism existed. The underrated part is that the country changed so much in 13 years that her teacher was able to prevail upon the family to let her go. To have a 13-year-old be sent off to Istanbul, completely opposite side of the country, to a boarding school for education — that kind of flourishing of liberation.
I’m not going to deny it was an authoritarian period, and minorities, like Kurds, during that period were brutally suppressed. I can’t make it sound like there was nothing else going on, but in terms of creating a republic out of the ashes of a crumbling empire — I think it’s one of the very striking stories of national transformation, globally, within one generation, so underrated.
There are numerous interesting segments, on varied topics, to be found throughout the dialog.
As the pandemic evolves, so is the tendency of people to take moral positions they would not normally endorse. Most notably, many left-wing commentators are becoming moral scolds, stressing ideals of individual responsibility.
Consider these words:
“So it’s time to stop being diffident and call out destructive behavior for what it is. Doing so may make some people feel that they’re being looked down on. But you know what? Your feelings don’t give you the right to ruin other people’s lives.”
If I had read that paragraph two years ago, I might have thought it was a conservative columnist lamenting inner-city crime, or perhaps complaining about the behavior of homeless people in San Francisco. But no: It is Paul Krugman discussing those who will not get vaccinated or wear masks. He calls it “the rage of the responsible,” and it is emblematic of a broader set of current left-wing attitudes, most of all toward the red state responses to the pandemic.
To be clear, I agree with Krugman’s point, and I frequently express similar sentiments. All the same, I wonder about the rules here. When exactly are “the responsible” allowed to express their quiet rage, on which issues and on which terms?
The alternative to this rage is the language of victimhood. For example, many on the left tend to portray the homeless as hostages to circumstances largely beyond their control: the high cost of housing, unjust eviction policies, a tattered social welfare state, perhaps mental illness or drug addiction.
There is some truth in all those hypotheses. Still, when it comes to the homeless, am I also allowed to express the quiet rage of the responsible? Or is only the rhetoric of victimhood allowed?
There is no doubt that homeless people suffer very real injustices. But it could be argued that allowing oneself to become homeless is a greater abdication of responsibility than refusing to be vaccinated. It is also worse for your health and bad for the community, as anyone from San Francisco can tell you.
One rejoinder might be that a pandemic is different. Maybe so, but if this were the 1980s, during the peak of the HIV-AIDS epidemic, one could imagine a Moral Majority advocate expressing sentiments similar to Krugman’s about gay men who engage in unsafe sex. Today such a view would be considered uncouth, at least in the mainstream media, and that’s not only because there are now effective treatments against HIV-AIDS. This kind of scolding has mostly gone out of fashion, especially when the recipients have been victims of prior or current social discrimination.
Or consider the question of suicide. There was a time in America when it was common to view suicide as a violation of Christian doctrine. Now there is largely sympathy for those who have killed themselves. Is this change for the better? Maybe, but it’s not clear that this issue has been given serious evidence-based consideration. Scolding sometimes helps to limit the number of wrong deeds, and everyone does it to some degree, even when it is sometimes not appropriate.
Then there are alcohol and drug abuse, which have some features of epidemics in that they exhibit social contagion. Your drunkenness, for example, on average encourages some of your friends to experiment with the same. But scolding alcoholics also is out of fashion, even though the social costs of alcohol abuse are extremely high, especially when considered cumulatively. As a teetotaler, I sometimes express my own quiet rage of the responsible, and my reaction is mostly considered a strange curiosity.
It is not only left-wing thinkers who have ended up in strange ideological positions. Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida, a conservative Republican and one of America’s leading right-wing politicians, has essentially expanded public health-care coverage in his state by setting up mobile units to administer monoclonal antibodies to Covid-19 sufferers. I’m all for that. At the same time, I notice he continues to oppose Medicaid expansion in Florida.
What explains the attitudinal shifts we are seeing? One possibility is that left-wing thinkers are getting more puritanical and are more comfortable in their new role as scolds, including with respect to sex and vaccination and mask-wearing. That would leave Trumpist Republicans as the defenders of medical choice and the sexual libertinism of the 1960s and 1970s.
Another possibility, not mutually exclusive, is that few of us are intellectually consistent, and so our scolding is increasingly shaped by affective political polarization. The left will scold the practices of Trump supporters, while the right will scold the woke, and views on any particular issue will be adjusted to fit into this broader pattern. If an issue is not very partisan, such as alcohol abuse or suicide, scolding simply will decline.
Here is an article on the movement to treat vaccinated patients first. Fine by me! But what exactly are the egalitarians supposed to say? Is meritocracy now allowed to rear its ugly head? Or do no other social outcomes have anything to do with your merit? Only this one? Really?
“The Tax Policy Center estimates that last year nearly 107 million households, or about 61 percent, owed no income tax or even received tax credits from the government,” Howard Gleckman, a senior fellow at the Tax Policy Center, noted last week. “The spike is likely to be temporary, however. The share of non-payers will decline to about 102 million or 57 percent this year.”
n recent pre-pandemic years, the percentage of tax returns with no income tax liability has been closer to 44 percent in Tax Policy Center’s figures, though it has trended upward over time.
“The percentage of filers with no income liability has generally increased from where it was nearly 40 years ago,” the National Taxpayers Union Foundation reported in 2018. “This trend is indicative of a progressive income tax code under which higher-income earners pay a larger share of taxes while low-income earners are generally shielded from significant income tax liabilities.”
Here is more from Reason, via Ray Lopez. In so many other areas, the pandemic has accelerated trends that already were present…