Category: Political Science
This was presumably my last Bloomberg column about a policy from President Trump, here is the setting:
On his way out the door, President Donald Trump issued an executive order expanding on his earlier call for the creation of a “Garden of American Heroes.” The context is that recent events have supposedly shown that the U.S. no longer believes in its own greatness and has mocked its own history and heritage, and so this new tonic is needed to restore a spirit of homage and pride. Thus the government should carve out a new public space, full of statues of great Americans.
Here is one excerpt:
My first worry is that, however important heroism may be, it is not well represented en masse. The U.S. celebrates the heroic best when presenting an ethos of individualism, yet the executive order lists 244 Americans to be honored. In contrast, the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials are solo presentations. The Iwo Jima statue in Arlington, Virginia represents a collective effort of flag raising, by only six soldiers. Mount Rushmore has just four presidents.
My worry is that a Heroes Garden of 244 would appear more collectivistic, even mildly fascistic, than heroic. It is hard to avoid a numbing effect when the number of figures is so large. Large numbers of figures also sometimes indicate victimization, such as in the “Tragedy of the Peoples” Holocaust memorial in Moscow, or with the more than 58,000 names on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
A final worry is that we do not live in a time of great portrait sculptors. Contemporary artists may be ironic or acerbic or witty or deeply conceptual to wonderful effect, as you can learn from a tour of the sculptures at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington or the Storm King Art Center in upstate New York. But I don’t see many first-rate works with the aesthetic of, say, Michelangelo’s David or the portrayals of American heroes created by Augutus Saint-Gaudens. The reluctance of contemporary sculptors to communicate the quality of heroism is likely to produce a bland garden featuring an ugly official culture.
There are further points at the link.
This article demonstrates that limits on campaign contributions—which alter a candidate’s ability to raise money from certain types of donors—affect the ideologies of legislators in office. Using an original data set of campaign contribution limits in some US states over the last 20 years, I exploit variation across and within states over time to show that higher individual contributions lead to the selection of more polarized legislators, while higher limits on contributions from political action committees (PACs) lead to the selection of more moderate legislators. Individual donors prefer to support ideologically extreme candidates while access-seeking PACs tend to support more moderate candidates. Thus, institutional changes that limit the availability of money affect the types of candidates who would normally fund-raise from these two main sources of campaign funds. These results show that the connection between donors and candidates is an important part of the story of the polarization of American politics.
That is the topic of my current Bloomberg column, here is one bit:
Put aside U.S. politics for a moment and view the events of the last week from a global perspective. Without backing from the military, a crowd entered the Capitol building and disabled the U.S. Congress, and almost succeeded in achieving more violent goals yet.
The question is not what people should infer, or what most people will think. It’s what the people at the extremes will think and do. Even if many foreign citizens conclude that the events of last week were not a big deal, the most determined and rebellious observers might give them a different and more radical gloss. (Besides which, it actually was a big deal.) As the
Now imagine you live in Hungary, Uganda, Myanmar or any country that is experiencing political turmoil. If you had a violent plan against your own government, do you now rate your chances of success as lower or higher? Organizing a storming mob may have just become more appealing, especially since your adversary is almost certainly less formidable than the U.S. government.
And what if you express your surprise over recent events?:
Yet this very surprise, while justified, may itself induce a dangerous contagion effect. The surprise carries an implicit message: “It may not seem like you have many allies, but in fact you do, including in some powerful places.” So you can imagine how a supporter of say QAnon might come to believe that there are secret allies everywhere. And those beliefs may in turn encourage political violence.
One implication is that the media needs to be very careful about how they portray the perpetrators of the Jan. 6 events. Most media organizations have been publicizing the identities and deeds of these criminals, as they should. A lot of Americans need to be shocked out of their complacency about what happened, or at least nudged out of various theories of false equivalence. The more information becomes public, the more it becomes clear that at least part of the Capitol-storming group was conspiring and intent on violence and mayhem — and for very bad political ends: in essence, the destruction of American democracy.
Yet there is such a thing as too much information. In other contexts, the news media withhold the names, images and causes of many terrorists and criminals. To the extent those individuals are doing it for recognition, denying them that recognition may discourage future wrongdoers.
There are further arguments at the link.
As many of you will expect, I am fine with their decision. Furthermore I think they made it at exactly the right moment.
Questions for those who think that Twitter made the wrong decision:
1. Can you state your margin? That is, what would Trump have to do for you to think that Twitter should suspend his account?
2. Robert Nozick called for an archipelago of polities, each autonomously setting their own rules. Isn’t Twitter’s action quite consistent with this vision? Is the optimal libertarian equilibrium really one that adds centralized government regulation of tech platform speech codes? If so, does that induce you to reject libertarian doctrines more generally?
3. If you favor regulation to avoid this deplatforming, which many are calling for, is the optimal libertarian equilibrium really one that adds centralized government regulation of tech platform speech codes? Where else do you think technology companies should be more regulated when it comes to speech issues?
4. Do you think that the US is the only government that should regulate the speech codes of technology companies or are you in favor of the evolution that would actually occur, i.e. dozens of different countries regulating platform speech in heterogeneous fashion? If you don’t favor the latter, shouldn’t you be stridently on the side of tech platform independence here? Do you think that the modal government has more or less Millian liberal tendencies than say Jack Dorsey or Mark Zuckerberg?
Questions for those who think that Twitter made the right decision:
5. Why not ban the CCP or Ayatollah Khomenei or many of the other odious and even genocidal characters who populate Twitter today? This tweet still stands: https://twitter.com/khamenei_ir/status/1263551872872386562. (My view would be to ban the violence-promoting Ayatollahs and leave the CCP, albeit with labeling that it is state propaganda.)
6. This summer, Slate and many other media organizations condoned violence in explicit terms. Murders are in fact up a great deal this year. Given that incitement to violence is manifestly acceptable to Twitter in many cases, can you articulate the relevant standard in more detail?
That is a new paper by Kevin D. Hoover and Andrej Svorenčík:
The leadership structure of the American Economics Association is documented using a biographical database covering every officer and losing candidate for AEA offices from 1950 to 2019. The analysis focuses on institutional affiliations by education and employment. The structure is strongly hierarchical. A few institutions dominate the leadership, and their dominance has become markedly stronger over time. Broadly two types of explanations are explored: that institutional dominance is based on academic merit or that it based on self-perpetuating privilege. Network effects that might explain the dynamic of increasing concentration are also investigated.
I wonder how the AEA budget will hold up now that interviews can be done by Zoom and meeting attendance is not required.
Via the excellent Kevin Lewis.
County officials who have for years been planning for a mass vaccination said they are seeing that training and preparation — much of it funded by millions of dollars in federal grants — pushed aside as the administration of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has retained control of the state’s coronavirus vaccination program, including having hospitals rather than local health departments administer the doses.
Interviews with multiple county officials over the past week confirm that many are unclear why the governor’s administration has not activated the county-by-county system, a plan that included recent practice sessions in which members of the public received regular flu vaccines at drive-thru sites.
…In Albany County, officials have privately said they could vaccinate the population of the southern half of the county in a few days if they were given the coronavirus vaccines and allowed to mobilize their plan.
Here is the full, gory story. It is clear they have just begun thinking about this. I really do not understand why Paul Krugman has been praising the New York State response for so many months, they have gone from one disgrace to another. Ross Barkan offers further commentary. And here is de Blasio on Cuomo.
As a side note this is interesting: “The Times Union is not disclosing the [vaccination] location because county officials contend the vaccination sites should not be publicly disclosed for security purposes.”
To be clear, other states are messing up too, some of them worse than NY.
That is the title of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one excerpt:
Preliminary data indicate that the new strain in the U.K. allows the virus to spread from one person to another more easily. The practical upshot is that even the strict lockdowns of early 2020, such as the one just ordered in the U.K. by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, may not be enough to reverse the spread of the virus.
It is far from obvious that politicians will be able to sell voters on strict lockdowns if they still allow the virus to spread. Furthermore, vaccine distribution has been sufficiently slow that a full lockdown would have to last for many months, and that probably isn’t feasible or desirable. Yet not having lockdowns would lead to a much more rapid spread of the virus, overloading hospitals and public health facilities.
The biggest moral dilemmas might come in those countries that to date have been fairly successful at containing the spread of the virus. Apart from restrictions on foreign travel, life in Taiwan has been normal for some time now, and Covid-related casualties have been miniscule. Other successful examples of virus containment can be found throughout Asia and the Pacific.
But how will those countries deal with the new strain? It has already appeared in both Taiwan and China. So far it has not taken over, but the previous tactics of quarantine and tracing may no longer suffice, should the new strain become more active. It is already spreading in Denmark, which did a good job against Covid-19 early on.
Imagine being a leader of a country that has successfully contained Covid, and now realizing that a single mistake could undo almost a year of very hard work. You also know that, precisely because your country has been so effective at fighting the virus, it is not on the verge of vaccinating your entire population. What if you let a single returning citizen pass through customs taking one Covid test rather than three? What if you then cannot control the subsequent spread of the strain that person is carrying?
When was the last time that stakes for such apparently minor decisions were so high? How will leaders deal with the extreme moral anxiety that their decisions will likely induce?
It is like we are living in a horror movie, and just when we think it’s over, the monster comes back, stronger than ever.
Itzchak Tzachi Raz says maybe so:
This paper studies the impact of social learning on the formation of close-knit communities. It provides empirical support to the hypothesis, put forth by the historian Fred Shannon in 1945, that local soil heterogeneity limited the ability of American farmers to learn from the experience of their neighbors, and that this contributed to their “traditional individualism.” Consistent with this hypothesis, I establish that historically, U.S. counties with a higher degree of soil heterogeneity displayed weaker communal ties. I provide causal evidence on the formation of this pattern in a Difference-in-Differences framework, documenting a reduction in the strength of farmers’ communal ties following migration to a soil-heterogeneous county, relative to farmers that moved to a soil-homogeneous county. Using the same design, I also show that soil heterogeneity did not affect the social ties of non-farmers. The impact of soil heterogeneity is long-lasting, still affecting culture today. These findings suggest that, while understudied, social learning is an important determinant of culture.
We are seeing our state governments doing a poor job — yes a very poor job –distributing the vaccine. You can take this as evidence for various theories of bureaucratic dysfunctionality and it is. But still at the end of the day, always ask about the cross-sectional variation!
Virginia runs prisons, schools, maintains roads, has a Medicaid program, and various state-level functions, such as hiring staff for the governor, some of those in conjunction with other levels of government. Maybe those services are not productivity marvels, but they work OK — I’ve lived here for a long time. So why the differences? Here are a few hypotheses, not all of which need be true:
1. Learning curves are steep. Most of what governments do is just terrible at the beginning, but eventually there is learning and improvement. What is different here is simply the hurry.
2. Interest groups make everything run. It is clear who benefits from state-level Medicaid programs, and those constituencies keep the programs on track. In contrast, the beneficiaries from rapid Covid vaccination are quite diffuse and are not represented by strong, exclusive organizations.
3. Too many layers of government (and society) are involved. The states are waiting for the local public health authorities, who are waiting for the counties, who are waiting for the Feds, and so on. The private sector is involved too, through CVS and the like. No one is picking up the ball and running with it. No one was told who moves first. In contrast, the lines of responsbility for running roads, schools, and the like are fairly clear.
4. The real problem is the citizenry. The lines to get these vaccines for the 1A group are not long. Government made one mistake of assuming the first round of take-up would be rapid, but the real problem is the sluggishness of the demanders. And things will be OK once we get past the 1A group and open up distribution more broadly.
5. Logistics mentality is lacking. Our state governments have specialized in Medicaid, while contracting our schools to the localities and road construction and repair to the private sector. There is perhaps not a strong enough core of logistic expertise and logistics culture in most state governments.
What else? And what are the relative weights on the truth of these hypotheses? To what extent can we use these and other hypotheses to explain cross-sectional variation across the states? Why are West Virginia and the Dakotas doing relatively well in vaccine distribution so far, when those are not typically considered the most effective state governments?
Again, always ask about the cross-sectional variation!
…we find that white individuals have become less supportive of trade than minorities and that whites are more likely than minorities to favor trade with highly similar countries. We suggest that minority support for trade is due to four well‐documented differences in the psychological predispositions of whites and minorities in the United States. Minorities have lower levels of racial prejudice, are lower in social dominance, and express less nationalism than whites. At the same time, there is evidence of rising ingroup racial consciousness among whites. Each of these characteristics has been independently linked to trade support in a direction encouraging greater support for trade among minorities. As the United States grows ever closer to becoming a “majority minority” nation, the racialization of trade attitudes may stimulate shifts in the likely future of America’s trade relationships.
Ayub Khan ended the political turmoil to become the country’s first military ruler in 1958. He revived the economy, carried out agrarian reforms, provided stimulus to the industry and encouraged foreign investment. State-backed capitalism and alliance with the US powered a ‘golden age’ of high growth rates under Ayub Khan’s reign. The growth was significant enough for the international media to take a note of it. In January of 1965, New York Times went on to predict that Pakistan might be on its way towards an economic milestone reached ‘by only one other populous country, the United States’. A year later, The Times, London, called Pakistan’s survival and development ‘one of the most remarkable examples of state and nation-building in the post-war period’. Pakistan was ‘considered to be one of the few countries at the time that would achieve developed-country status’.
That is from Sameer Arshad Khatlani’s recent and really quite good The Other Side of the Divide: A Journey into the Heart of Pakistan.
By Mark Lawrence Schrad. From the Amazon summary:
This is the history of temperance and prohibition as you’ve never read it before: redefining temperance as a progressive, global, pro-justice movement that affected virtually every significant world leader from the eighteenth through early twentieth centuries.
I have been reading the galleys, I will blurb it, it will be one of the best non-fiction books of 2021, more in due time you can pre-order here.
In the present wreck of empires, and under the extinction of all international law, no small state can hope to maintain its independence. Great Britain and Ireland, from their situation, their language, and their mutual necessities, seem naturally destined to support each other’s strength, and supply each other’s wants; and we are quite convinced, that nothing but extreme misgovernment can separate them. Heavy indeed, then, will be the responsibility of those men, under who administration, or by whose previous unconciliatory measures such a separation is effected — whether the immediate cause of it be foreign conquest, or internal commotion.
That is Thomas Robert Malthus, “On the State of Ireland (II), published in the Edinburgh Review in 1809. It made perfect sense back then — and today — and yet for entirely different and indeed almost opposite reasons.
Here is the audio, video, and transcript — we are both Irish-Americans who were born in Hudson County, New Jersey, and who spent most of our lives working in northern Virginia, the CIA in his case. Here is part of the CWT summary:
John joined Tyler to discuss what working in intelligence taught him about people’s motivations, how his Catholic upbringing prepared him for working in intelligence, the similarities between working at the CIA and entering the priesthood, his ability to synthetize information from disparate sources, his assessment on the possibility of alien life, the efficacy of personality tests and polygraphs, why CIA agents are so punctual, how the CIA plans to remain a competitive recruiter for top talent, the challenges that spouses and family members of intelligence workers face, the impact of modern technology on spycraft, why he doesn’t support the use of enhanced interrogation techniques, his favorite parts of Cairo, the pros and cons of the recent Middle Eastern peace deal brokered by Jared Kushner, the reasons he thinks we should leverage American culture more abroad, JFK conspiracy theories, why there seemed to be much less foreign interference in the 2020 election than experts predicted, what John le Carré got right about being a spy, why most spies aren’t like James Bond, what he would change about FISA courts, and more.
Here is one excerpt:
COWEN: Are CIA agents more punctual than average?
BRENNAN: Some certainly are. Many of them need to be if you’re going to have a rendezvous, a clandestine rendezvous with a spy from overseas, one of your assets or agents. You have worked for hours to get clean so that you make sure that the local security services are not onto you and surveilling you, and your agent has done the same thing so that when you meet at the designated place at a designated hour, you can quickly then have either a brush pass or a quick meeting or whatever.
If you’re not punctual, you can put that agent’s life in danger. I think it’s instilled in CIA, certainly case officers, that time is of the essence, and you need to be able to follow the clock.
Also, I remember when I was CIA director and I would go down to the White House for an executive council meeting or a principals committee meeting. Jim Clapper, the director of National Intelligence, and myself would always be the first ones there because we were always very punctual. I think sometimes the policymakers would look at the clock not as carefully as we would.
COWEN: If you’re hiring for punctuality, and obviously, you would expect employees to show an extreme degree of loyalty, do you worry that you’re not hiring for enough of what’s called disagreeability in the personality literature: people who will contradict their superiors, people who will pick fights? They’re a pain to work with, but at the end of the day, they bring up points that other people are afraid to say or won’t even see.
BRENNAN: We’re not looking to hire just a bunch of yes people. To me, I don’t think punctuality means that you’re looking to instill discipline in an organization. You’re trying to ensure that you’re taking advantage of —
COWEN: But that and loyalty — it would seem to select against disagreeability.
BRENNAN: There’s loyalty to the Constitution. There’s loyalty to the oath of office. To me, there shouldn’t be loyalty to any individuals, including inside the CIA. I would like to think that CIA recruiters would be looking for individuals who are intellectually curious, have critical thinking skills, and mainly have also, I think, some degree of contrariness because you don’t want people just to accept as gospel what it is that they are being told, especially if they’re going to be interacting with spies overseas.
Definitely recommended, fascinating throughout. And here is John’s new book Undaunted: My Fight Against America’s Enemies, At Home and Abroad.