Category: Political Science

Alice Evans on the ideological gender divide

“I suggest,

  1. Men and women tend to think alike in societies where there is
    1. Close-knit interdependence, religosity and authoritarianism, or
    2. Shared cultural production and mixed gendered offline socialising.
  2. Gendered ideological polarisation appears encouraged by:
    1. Feminised public culture
    2. Economic resentment
    3. Social media filter bubbles
    4. Cultural entrepreneurs.”

Here is the full piece, currently the best piece on this topic.

What happened in 17th century England (a lot)

East India Company founded — 1600

Shakespeare – Hamlet published 1603

England starting to settle America – 1607 in Virginia, assorted, you could add Harvard here as well

King James Bible – 1611

The beginnings of steady economic growth – 1620 (Greg Clark, JPE)

Rule of law ideas, common law ideas, Sir Edward Coke – 1628-1648, Institutes of the Laws of England, four volumes

Beginnings of libertarian thought – Levellers 1640s

Printing becomes much cheaper, and the rise of pamphlet culture

John Milton, Aeropagitica, defense of free speech, 1644

King Charles I executed – 1649 (leads to a period of “Britain without a King,” ending 1660)

Birth of economic reasoning – second half of 17th century

Royal African Company and a larger slave trade – 1660

General growth of the joint stock corporation

Final subjugation of Ireland, beginnings of British colonialism and empire (throughout, mostly second half of the century)

Discovery of the calculus, Isaac Newton 1665-1666

Great Plague of London, 1665-1666, killed ¼ of city?

Great Fire of London, 1666

John Milton, Paradise Lost, 1667

Social contract theories – John Locke 1689

Bill of Rights (rights of Parliament) — 1689

Birth of modern physics – Newton’s Principia 1687

Bank of England — 1694

Scientific Revolution – throughout the 17th century, places empiricism and measurement at the core of science

The establishment of Protestantism as the religion of Britain, both formal and otherwise, throughout the century, culminating in the Glorious Revolution of 1688.

London – becomes the largest city in Europe by 1700 at around 585,000 people.

England moves from being a weak nation to perhaps the strongest in Europe and with the strongest navy.

Addendum: Adam Ozimek adds:

…first bank to print banknotes in Europe, 1661

Discovery of the telescope 1608

First patent for a modern steam engine 1602

What are the actual dangers of advanced AI?

That is the focus of my latest Bloomberg column, 2x the normal length.  I cannot cover all the points, but here is one excerpt:

The larger theme is becoming evident: AI will radically disrupt power relations in society.

AI may severely limit, for instance, the status and earnings of the so-called “wordcel” class. It will displace many jobs that deal with words and symbols, or make them less lucrative, or just make those who hold them less influential. Knowing how to write well won’t be as valuable a skill five years from now, because AI can improve the quality of just about any text. Being bilingual (or tri- or quadrilingual, for that matter) will also be less useful, and that too has been a marker of highly educated status. Even if AIs can’t write better books than human authors, readers may prefer to spend their time talking to AIs rather than reading.

It is worth pausing to note how profound and unprecedented this development would be. For centuries, the Western world has awarded higher status to what I will call ideas people — those who are good at developing, expressing and putting into practice new ways of thinking. The Scientific and Industrial revolutions greatly increased the reach and influence of ideas people.

AI may put that trend into reverse.

And on arms races:

If I were to ask AI to sum up my worries about AI — I am confident it would do it well, but to be clear this is all my own work! — it might sound something like this: When dynamic technologies interact with static institutions, conflict is inevitable, and AI makes social disruption for the wordcel class and a higher-stakes arms race are more likely.

That last is the biggest problem, but it is also the unavoidable result of a world order based on nation-states. It is a race that the Western democracies and their allies have to manage and win. That is true regardless of the new technology in question: Today it is AI, but future arms races could concern solar-powered space weapons, faster missiles and nuclear weapons, or some yet-to-be-invented way of wreaking havoc on this planet and beyond. Yes, the US may lose some of these races, which makes it all the more important that it win this one — so it can use AI technologies as a counterweight to its deficiencies elsewhere.

In closing I will note for the nth time that rationalist and EA philosophies — which tend to downgrade the import of travel and cultural learning — are poorly suited for reasoning about foreign policy and foreign affairs.

How and why do legal codes differ across red and blue states?

Polarization in the traditional sense is not very important:

…this study examined the criminal codes of the six largest deep red states and the six largest deep blue states – states in which a single political party has held the governorship and control of both legislative bodies for at least the past three elections. It then identified 93 legal issues on which there appeared to be meaningful difference among the 12 states’ criminal law rules. An analysis of the patterns of agreement and disagreement among the 12 states was striking. Of the many thousands of issues that must be settled in drafting a criminal code, only a handful – that sliver of criminal law issues that became matters of public political debate, such as those noted above – show a clear red-blue pattern of difference.

If not red-blue, then, what does explain the patterns of disagreement among the 12 states on the 93 criminal law issue? What factors have greater influence on the formulation of criminal law rules than the red-blue divide?

The Article examines a range of possible influences, giving specific examples that illustrate the operation of each: state characteristics, such as population; state criminal justice characteristics, such as crime rates; model codes, such as the ALI’s Model Penal Code; national headline events, such as the attempted assassination of President Reagan; local headline cases that over time grow into national movements, such as Tracy Thurman and domestic violence; local headline cases that produced only a local state effect; the effect of legislation passed by a neighboring state; and legislation as a response to judicial interpretation or invalidation.

In other words, not only is the red-blue divide of little effect for the vast bulk of criminal law, but the factors that do have effect are numerous and varied.

That is from a new paper by Paul H. Robinson, Hugh Rennie, and Clever Earth.  Via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

Social improvements that don’t create countervailing negative forces

Let us say you favor policy X, and take steps to see that policy X comes about.

Under many conditions, people who favor non-X will take additional countervailing steps to oppose X.  And in that case your actions in favor of X, on average, will lead to nothing.  In the meantime, you and also your opponents will have wasted material resources fighting over X.

This argument is hardly new, but most people do not like to consider it much.  They instead prefer to mood affiliate in favor of X, or perhaps against X.  They prefer to be “fighting for the right things.”

Perhaps visible political organizing is most likely to set this dynamic in motion.  Everyone can see what you are doing, and perhaps they can use their actions to fundraise for their own side.

That is one reason why I am not so thrilled with much of that organizing, even if I agree with it.  Of course there are other scenarios here.  Your involvement on behalf of X might just be flat-out decisive.  Or perhaps the group against X is too resource-constrained to respond to your greater advocacy.  That said, those descriptors (and others) might apply as well to either side of the dispute, your side included.  Scaling up the fight over X might cause you to be the one who simply flat out loses the struggle.

It is worth thinking which kinds of “small steps toward a much better world” do not produce such countervailing effects.

How about “being positive and constructive”?  Does it generate an equal and offsetting amount of negativity?

How about “trying to get people to be more reasonable, yet without offering a substantive political commitment bundled with that”?  Does that in turn motivate the crazies to work harder at making everyone go insane?  I am not sure.

What else might be effective, once these strategies are considered?

Does “refuting people” fit into this category?  Yes or no?

Which activities should you be abandoning altogether?  Or perhaps trying to do in secret, rather than publicly?

Settembrini and the continuing relevance of classical liberalism

Adrian Wooldridge has an excellent Bloomberg column on this topic, promoting the relevance of Thomas Mann, and here is one excerpt:

In the book [Magic Mountain], Castorp falls in with two intellectuals who live in the village of Davos below his sanitorium: an Italian humanist called Lodovico Settembrini and a Jewish-born cosmopolitan called Leo Naphta who is drawn to the Communist revolution and traditional Catholicism. The two men carry on a bitter argument about the relative merits of liberalism and illiberalism that touches on every question that mattered in prewar Europe: nationalism, individualism, fairness, tradition, war, peace, terrorism and so on.

Settembrini mechanically repeats the central tenets of liberalism but doesn’t seem to realize that the world is a very different place from what it was in 1850…Settembrini is like the bulk of today’s liberals — well-meaning but incapable of recognizing that the world of their youth has changed beyond recognition.

My reading of the world, however, is slightly different.  I think the Settembrini example, from 1924, shows classical liberalism is still relevant.  In 1924, classical liberalism seemed out of touch because the rest of the world was too fascistic, too communist, and too negative, among other problems.  Yet at the time the classical liberals were essentially correct, even though Settembrini sounds out of touch.

Because classical liberals continued to carry the torch, we later had another highly successful classical liberal period, something like 1980-2000, though of course you can argue the exact dates.

Perhaps the underlying model is this: classical liberals often seem out of touch, because the world is too negative to respond to their concerns.  Most of the time classical liberals are shouting into the well, so to speak.  But they need to keep at it.  Every now and then a window for liberal change opens, and then the classical liberals have to be ready, which in turn entails many years in the intellectual and ideological wilderness.

When the chaos surrounds, the liberals are no less relevant.  The Settembrini character, from 1924, illustrates exactly that.  Because he did eventually have his day, though many years later.

*The Economist* on Tatu City, Kenya

Take the pig’s ear first. Unveiled in 2008 as a $15bn smart city project, Konza Technopolis was supposed to be the heart of Kenya’s “silicon savannah” that, by 2020, would create 100,000 jobs and add 2% to gdp. Three years and many missed deadlines later, there is still far more evidence of savannah than silicon.

By contrast, Tatu City, on the northern outskirts of Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, is flourishing. Some 23,750 people already live, study or work there and 78 businesses have made it home. Moderna, an American drugmaker, is opening a $500m vaccine manufacturing facility, its first in Africa. Zhende Medical, a Chinese medical-supplies manufacturer, is also setting up shop.

Tatu and Konza were conceived at the same time. Each, at roughly 5,000 acres, is of a similar size. Both aspire to house populations of more than 200,000 people. And both have been designated Special Economic Zones (sezs), meaning that the businesses they house are eligible for tax benefits and other incentives. Why is one more likely to succeed than other? The answer lies not in their similarities, but in their differences, and these provide lessons for other developments in Africa.

The first is ownership. Konza’s proprietor is the state. Tatu City’s is Rendeavour, a big private urban land developer.

Here is the rest of the article.  Here are my three CWT podcasts about Tatu City.  I am pleased at how well it is all going!

For the pointer I thank Kurtis Lockhart of Charter Cities Institute.

Political business cycle theory has been neutered

Probably not forever, but we are living in strange times:

Now the theory needs major revision. Political leaders still wish to manipulate economic variables in their favor, of course. But economies, as well as voters, are not going along — and so the standard mechanisms for political business cycle theory are broken…

Under political business cycle theory, this [the IRA] should have helped Biden win favor with voters. Yet it has not worked out that way. Biden’s approval ratings remain anchored at all-time lows — whether these are justified is a separate question — and meanwhile a lot of the money is being spent on manufacturing in red states that Biden is unlikely to win. In political terms, a very large dose of fiscal policy just doesn’t seem to have helped.

Political business cycle theory also implicitly predicted that the Fed would be reluctant to pursue disinflation over the last year, for fear of inducing a recession and damaging re-election prospects for incumbents. The Fed proceeded in any case, even though its staff (incorrectly) expected a recession.

In economic terms as well, fiscal policy is less effective today than in it has been in the past. Many countries have higher debt and deficit levels, which raises the risk of short-run crowding out of private investment. And labor markets in many countries are tight, which limits the ability of fiscal policy to boost employment.

The world’s most radical economic plan currently belongs to President Javier Milei of Argentina. Milei explicitly campaigned on a platform of taking away benefits and limiting the number of commitments the government makes. He is now trying to carry out those promises, even though voters may not like the results. Nonetheless he has cast his lot in opposition to the “free lunch” mentality.

There is much more in the rest of my Bloomberg column.

Kamil Kovar on the German debt brake (from my email)

I was wondering if you would consider writing a post about the German debt brake in light of recent developments? Personally, I am not a huge fan of discussions about fiscal policy (or even worse, austerity…), as I feel they are mostly Rorschach test without much deep thinking. But I did find the recent developments intriguing because they challenge my priors so I am wondering what whether your thinking has changed as well.

My prior was that some form of constitutional debt break is a reasonable mechanism to deal with the pro-debt bias resulting from democratic political process. Of course, some of the recent German experience has challenged that. For example, debt break legislation lead to a lot of “bad” legislating, which was exposed by the court recently. Similarly, the debt break is leading Germany to cut spending and increase taxes relative to what the government would want; given the weakness in German economy this does not seem like optimal fiscal policy (but might be – monetary policy by choice restrictive, and many have called on fiscal to be too). And more broadly, there is a fair argument to be made that it has constrained government investment during last decade, which was an optimal time to do government investment given the negative interest rates.

Part of this I think is a question of imperfect design/implementation. The deficit threshold of -0.35% is higher than I would imagine. Absence of any relationship to current interest rates or effect on future debt levels ala CBO analysis is probably not what finance theory would suggest. And the cyclical adjustment seems suspicious: my understanding is that currently the cyclical adjustment allows for 0.1% of GDP of extra deficit, corresponding to 1% output gap and 1/10 elasticity, see here.[1] But I suspect imperfect design/implementation will always be a feature of these kind of legalistic rules, so should not be waved away.

At the same time, I find lot of the commentary rather subpar. I have in mind for example arguments in this article. While I can see that investment would likely be higher last decade in absence of debt break, saying that debt break results in “Germany that doesn’t invest and massively falls behind in economic terms” is just shocking, as it implies that investment can be only done through higher deficits. Moreover, arguing that debt break has to be abolished so that Germany can invest to deal with geopolitics and green transition is simply ignoring that Germany already found a legally-sound solution to such kind of problems when it constitutionally created its 100 billion euro defense spending fund. Together with the wise use of debt break suspensions during last 4 years this shows that there is sufficient flexibility built into this, despite what the commentators would suggest (“but in practice it’s too inflexible”), as long as there is consensus on such actions. But maybe this points towards the actual problem: maybe in current society building political consensus has become too hard, so that mechanisms which rely too much on such consensus are doomed to create more problems than their benefit. The US debt ceiling comes to mind. Similarly, I think CDU secretly agrees with some of the governments desires, but will not act on them either because it wishes for the government to collapse or is afraid of voters’ reaction.

Very curious what is your thinking and how it has changed.


P.S.: Relatedly, I often see left-of-center economists citing IMF research that austerity does not yield decrease in government debts relative to GDP. While I understand the value of such research, I am not sure what are the people suggesting. If austerity cannot lower debt to GDP, what can? I don’t think that most economists would suggest that large scale government investment is going to lower debt to GDP. So it the conclusion that we can never lower debt to GDP?

Kamil expands on these points in a blog post, concluding:

So maybe this is the main critique of the constitutional debt break: In the older world it might have been an good tool, but given the general unravelling of political process around the world, it adds too much of a constraint leading to worse outcomes. It simply is not fit for the current times. It might not be. As for me, I am currently in state of “not sure”.

What should I ask Jonathan Haidt?

Yes, I will be doing another Conversation with him.  Here is my previous Conversation with him, almost eight years ago.  As many of you will know, Jonathan has a new book coming out, namely The Anxious Generation: How the Great Rewiring of Childhood Is Causing an Epidemic of Mental Illness.  But there is much more to talk about as well.  So what should I ask him?

Why France is underrated

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

Since the West European economic boom ended in the 1970s, the French civil service has been at best a mixed blessing. French administrators have gotten a lot done, reflecting their impeccable education and internal culture. But they have also helped to make the French economy overly static and too reliant on bureaucracy. A lazier, less activist civil service might have been better.

Fast forward to 2023. War and conflict are now more common on the global scene, a trend that shows no signs of abating. Populist governments are on the rise, and China and Russia are active and restless. None of those problems is easy to solve, and they all require greater involvement from the public sector. Nations with high-quality leadership and civil-service traditions will stand a better chance of navigating the turmoil.

So the bureaucracy that was once a hindrance to France may now turn out to be a comparative advantage. And at a time when governance seems to be deteriorating around the world, Macron continues to have a reputation as a relatively responsible leader.

This year has shown how this advantage plays out. Post-pandemic France has been a bit of a mix, with soaring energy prices, inflation, rising interest rates, continuation of the Ukraine war, labor strikes and protests, and a variety of European migration crises. Yet France avoided a credit downgrade and the French economy continued to create more jobs. Performance has hardly been perfect and the risk of recession remains, but France has done better than might have been expected 18 months ago.

I also consider the relatively successful French start-up scene, including in AI.

Salta (and Jujuy) notes

The food is excellent.  Don’t worry about choosing the right restaurant, just try to eat the simple things.  Corn products.  Beans.  Baked goods such as empanadas.  Don’t waste your time on the steak.  The food stalls in the Mercado Municipal are a good place to start, and many items  there cost fifty cents to a dollar.  The “sopa de mani” (peanut soup) is especially good, and almost identical to what you find in Bolivia.

The overall vibe in Salta reminds me of both northern Mexico and the older parts of the American Southwest.  And the adjacent parts of Bolivia.  It is hot, the cities are surrounded by beautiful scenery, and it still all feels rather wild.  Salta is also much safer than Buenos Aires, and you don’t see many beggars here.  In B.A. they are now asking for food rather than money.

There’s not much to do in Salta, as the central sights in town are the two mummified remains of young Incan girls in the archaeological museum.  They are memorable, as it feels like they are staring right back at you.

Spending time here will cure you of utopianism, and also of pessimism.  Whatever issues you might think are really important, most people here really don’t care about them or even know about them.

American brands at the retail level are not to be seen.  Nor will you run across Chinese or Indian merchants.  Perhaps a Syrian or Lebanese is to be found, but not in any great numbers.

Tyrone is accompanying me, and I asked him what he thinks.  As you might expect, he had only stupid rudeness in response.  Tyrone said that northern Argentina is the true essence of the Argentinean nation, and that everyone interested in Argentina should visit here.  In fact, having visited North Macedonia, he wishes to rename the country South Bolivia — were they not once part of the same Viceroyalty?  Is it not enough to share the same soup?  Do they not have broadly the same accent, devoid of all that B.A. slurring?  Was not the country born here in the north?  That is where the decisive battle for national independence was fought and won.  Do we not all agree with theories of deep roots?  It is not just who moves to your nation, but it is about how and where your nation was founded.  And for Argentina that is in the north, and with violence and corruption and economic decline.  Tyrone even wishes to hand over the rest of Patagonia to the Chileans, so that Argentina may better recognize its true self.

In the twisted view of Tyrone, the creation of the modernist city of Brasilia was a big success.  The real failure, hermetically hidden by some charming Parisian and Barcelona-style architecture, was the attempted modernist outpost of Buenos Aires, an immature and underdeveloped excrudescence from the real nation of chocro, horse saddles and the quebrada.  It tricked a few Johnny-come-lately migrants during the early 20th century, and neglected to tell them they still would be ruled by the ideas and the norms of the north.

Imagine thinking that you could govern a nation with high modernism and Freudian psychoanalysis — what folly!  And now, Tyrone tells us, we have the Milei revolution, attempting to replace one Viennese modernism — that of Freud — with the Viennese modernist revolution of Mises.  Good luck with that one, Tyrone says.  What kind of fool would think that the future of South America would be determined by a war across different Viennese modernisms?  Those mummified corpses still will rule the day, whether or not the feds balance the budget in the short term.  Desiccated ever-young girls are in perpetual deficit, no matter how the daily fiscal accounts may read.

I had to stop Tyrone right then and there, as he was explaining why the current hyperinflation probably was a good thing, as the only path to true dollarization and at least one symbolic unification with North America.  Tyrone was shouting that such symbolic unification nonetheless was impossible, and thus the corpses had brought in Milei to restore fiscal sanity and prevent dollarization and thus protect the true Incan and Andean nation.

Such thoughts are not allowed on Marginal Revolution, and so I am now trying to persuade Tyrone to visit Iguassu, in the hope that I can induce him to take a quick swim in those falls…

I hope the rest of you will visit northern Argentina nonetheless, and put all that nonsense aside.  The empanadas await you.

What should UAP disclosure policy be?

That is the subject of my latest Bloomberg column.  Here is the opener:

There is currently legislation before Congress that, if passed, could be one of the most important laws in US history. The Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena Disclosure Act of 2023, which calls for transparency in matters related to UFOs, is sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer and has considerable bipartisan support, although it may fail due to Republican opposition.

However skeptical you or I might be, there are many allegations from within the federal government that the government is hiding alien crafts and bodies, and that the military is seeking to reverse-engineer alien technologies. There are also more plausible claims that there are flying objects that defy explanation.


…if you think all this talk of aliens is nonsense, isn’t the best response some sunlight to show nothing weird is going on?

That is the strongest argument for the bill: if all the recent UAP chatter reflects neither an alien presence nor threats from hostile foreign powers. In that case, drawing back the curtain would discourage reasonable observers from pursuing the topic further. A modest benefit would result.

What about hostile foreign powers as an explanation for the UAPs?:

In that case, additional transparency could be harmful. The US government conducts a variety of intelligence and military operations, and Congress does not insist that they all be made public. There is no transparency for CIA missions, or for US cyberattacks, or for many other aspects of US foreign policy.

In that scenario the case against the bill is relatively strong.  And what about good ol’ alien beings and spacecraft?

In that case, is the best policy really what transparency advocates call “managed disclosure”? They had envisioned a panel of responsible experts managing the flow of information, bit by bit.

One question is whether such knowledge might be better kept secret, or known only to the small number of elites who manage to put all of the pieces together. Whether a broad social panic would result from revealing an alien presence on earth is hard to say — but it is also hard to see the practical upside. The best argument for disclosure is simply that the public has a right to know, and that such a knowledge of the reality of the humankind’s place in the universe is intrinsically valuable.

A second question concerns the inexorable logic of disclosure. Practically speaking, the US has a long tradition of whistleblowers and truth-tellers. If there is actual hard evidence of alien visitation, it is going to leak out, with or without the UAP Disclosure Act of 2023. Just look at the Edward Snowden case, where an American risked imprisonment and exile to reveal secrets that were far less important than what could be at stake here.

If the current legislation does not pass, or if a much weaker version moves forward, some people may take that as their cue to step forward and spill the beans — with direct proof rather than hearsay.

So in that “most interesting” case a transparency bill may not matter for long.  That means I am not crushed that the disclosure provisions of the bill have been so watered down.  In the case where those provisions really matter, a) it may be better if we don’t know, and b) we will find out sooner or later anyway.  Aliens and UAPs aside, the appropriate degree of transparency is one of the most difficult questions in politics.

What is the political orientation of GROK?

The story is complicated, in any case it is not what you might think.  It is often not so different from ChatGPT, albeit with many caveats and qualifications, including about the tests themselves.  From David Rozado:

I think it is clear that Grok’s answers to questions with political connotations tend to often be left of center.

Model this…