Category: Political Science

What is actually a heretical view?

I was two days ago at Hereticon, and wondering which views actually should be considered heretical.  It seems there are some distinct categories, for instance here are a few categories of the “partially heretical”:

1. Used to be heretical, or on the verge of switching.

Favoring gay marriage, or more on the border thinking that UFOs are of alien origin.  The latter view is now presented with a straight face by former presidents and CIA heads, so it is not heretical any more.  In polls, it is not even so unusual amongst the American public, though some elites will mock it and it remains outside of the mainstream.

2. It’s heretical to say but the actual idea is not heretical.

Presenting “eugenics” ideas is heretical, but talking about “dating” and “matchmaking” is not.  Embryo selection is on the verge of not being heretical, if it ever was.  Or talking about “the feminization of society” is modestly heretical, but believing women have a much greater cultural influence is not heretical at all.  You just have to talk about it the right way.

3. The idea is not heretical globally.

But it might be heretical domestically, such as saying “the CCP is great.”  Or “women should have their kids really young.”  Those are a special category of heretical ideas, extremely common around the world, for better or worse, but still a no-no in some locales.

4. Popular views, but heretical with many elites.

Try “Darwin is wrong,” or “Facebook is fine.”  How about “autocracy is good”?  NB: In all of these discussions, I am not considering whether the belief is right or wrong.

Which would be a truly heretical belief that does not fall into these “partially heretical” categories?  But it can’t be absurd either, for instance it is not “heretical” for me to believe I can jump one hundred feet in the air, rather it is simply stupid.  I am also not looking for beliefs that offend or insult groups per se, as that is too easy.  “Group X is crummy” is not interesting for my purposes.

Maybe here are a few outright heretical views, again noting that I am not endorsing them:

5. ESP works.

6. Whales are smarter than people and deeper thinkers too.

7. In fact you can trust Congress to do the right thing.

8. Ten percent inflation a year is just fine.

9. Fortunately America has so many guns that we couldn’t do very strict lockdowns for Covid.

10. It would be better if humans never had existed, as they have destroyed more welfare than they created.  Most of all because of their effects on non-human animals.

11. Non-human animals suffer more than they enjoy, and it would be better if they did not exist.

12. American TV was much better in the 1960s and 1970s.

What else?

Why Does the CDC Do This?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday advised Americans to avoid travel to Canada, citing “very high” levels of the coronavirus.

Canada was placed under a Level 4 travel health notice — the highest category…“Because of the current situation in Canada, even fully vaccinated travelers may be at risk for getting and spreading Covid-19 variants,” the C.D.C. said.

It’s very strange. It’s as if the CDC are on auto pilot and even after two years can’t recognize that the United States may not be the safest place in the world. But why announce to everyone that they can’t compare risks? Why throw away so much credibility?

The political polarization of U.S. firms

Executive teams in U.S. firms are becoming increasingly partisan, leading to a political polarization of corporate America. We establish this new fact using political affiliations from voter registration records for top executives of S&P 1500 firms between 2008 and 2018. The rise in partisanship is explained by both an increasing share of Republican executives and increased sorting by partisan executives into firms with like-minded individuals. Further, we find that within a given firm-year, executives whose political views do not match those of the team’s majority have a higher probability of leaving the firm. The increase in partisanship is taking place despite executive teams becoming more diverse in terms of gender and race.

That is from a new paper by Vyacheslav Fos, Elisabeth Kempf, and Margarita Tsoutsoura.

Do all left-leaning institutions need to unionize?

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

Columbia University, with its sizable endowment, is a relatively well-capitalized entity. Still, it’s appropriate to ask what problem is solved by a graduate student union. The main difficulty for these students seems to be a lack of jobs when they graduate, and a pay hike might crowd the field further, with unwelcome consequences for the job market. And in the long run, the university could simply cut back on its initial financial aid offerings. The point is, it is hard for graduate student unions to bargain effectively across many of the most relevant dimensions of their student and work experience.

In the meantime, all of these unions are introducing additional veto points into the workplace, sometimes slowing response times. If you run the business and plan to make a big change in how it operates, you might feel — either contractually or tactically — that you need to check with the union first. And if you are a Democrat and a pragmatist, you might prefer a more effective but less unionized DNC, which after all is a major promoter of unionization for the U.S. economy as a whole.

What would a less hypocritical version of a Republican organization look like? Should everyone be given equity shares, or should there be bonuses for star performers? Whatever the answer may be, it probably won’t be debated much in public, as Republicans tend to be more circumspect about such matters. That’s a danger for Republicans, who may find it harder to live up to their principles if no one is calling them to account.

The Democrats, in contrast, tend to stage noisy debates — most of which, sooner or later, seem to settle in the same direction. That’s not a healthy norm of discourse, either.

Recommended.

Japan facts of the day

Compared with the previous year, the survey showed a drop in the number of people who wanted to work and study abroad, work with foreigners in Japan and learn foreign languages. Most notably the percentage of those who wanted to “use English for a job” declined from its 2020 peak by 10.6 points to 38 per cent.

And:

…the support for the ruling Liberal Democratic party among young people was higher than in other generations. That, said Junji Nakagawa, a professor at Chuo Gakuin University, reflected a view among 20-year-olds that the political landscape was unlikely to ever change.

Here is more from the FT, in part focusing on demographics, sobering throughout.

My Holberg Prize talk honoring Cass Sunstein

This is from 2018, I hadn’t know it was put on-line this last summer.  The title is about threats to democracy, but much of the actual 24-minute talk is about Cass.  Cass won the Holberg Prize that year, and I was asked to be one of the honoring speakers at the ceremony.  Here goes:

The fish and chips in Bergen was excellent.

And for this pointer I thank Clara B. Jones.

Noah Smith Substack interviews me

Here is the interview.  Here is one excerpt:

N.S.: So how would you generally describe the zeitgeist of the moment, if you had to give a simple summary? What do you think are a couple of most important trends in culture and thought right now? My impression has been that we’re sort of in a replay of the 70s — a period of exhaustion after several years of intense social unrest, where people are looking around for new cultural and economic paradigms to replace the ones we just smashed. But maybe I’ve just been reading too many Rick Perlstein books?

T.C.: I view the 1970s as a materialistic time, sexually highly charged, and America running into some significant real resource constraints, at least initially stemming from high oil prices. Mainstream culture was often fairly crass — just look at disco, or the ascendancy of mainstream network television. The current time I see as quite different. Sexually, we are withdrawing. Society is more feminized. America has far more immigrants. And we are obsessed with the virtual and with make-believe, to a degree the 1970s could not have imagined. Bruno Macaes is one author who is really on the right track here, with his emphasis on how America is building virtual and indeed often “unreal” fantasies.

I think today the variance of weirdness is increasing. Conformists can conform like never before, due say to social media and the Girardian desire to mimic others. But unusual people can connect with other unusual people, and make each other much weirder and more “niche.” For instance, every possible variant of political views seems to be “out there” these days, and perhaps that is not entirely reassuring. A higher variance for weirdness probably encourages creativity. But is it a positive development on net? We are going to find out.

Recommended throughout, and of course do subscribe to Noah’s Substack.

How to elect Republicans

In New York, racial minorities are automatically eligible for scarce COVID-19 therapeutics, regardless of age or underlying conditions. In Utah, “Latinx ethnicity” counts for more points than “congestive heart failure” in a patient’s “COVID-19 risk score”—the state’s framework for allocating monoclonal antibodies. And in Minnesota, health officials have devised their own “ethical framework” that prioritizes black 18-year-olds over white 64-year-olds—even though the latter are at much higher risk of severe disease.

These schemes have sparked widespread condemnation of the state governments implementing them. But the idea to use race to determine drug eligibility wasn’t hatched in local health departments; it came directly from the federal Food and Drug Administration.

Here is the full story, I am very willing to issue a correction if it turns out anything posted from this is wrong.

Is the Beijing Consensus collapsing?

From my latest Bloomberg column:

The more dramatic developments have come from China itself. China did effectively wield state power to build infrastructure, manage its cities and boost economic growth. And most advocates of the Washington Consensus underestimated how well that process would go.

But along the way, China became addicted to state power. Whenever there was a problem in Chinese society, the government ran to the rescue. The most dramatic example was the extreme use of fiscal policy to forestall the 2008 financial crisis from spreading to China.

Yet this general application of state power, even if successful in a particular instance, brought a great danger: The Chinese were left with overdeveloped state-capacity muscles and underdeveloped civil-society capabilities. Over the last several years the Chinese government has done much to restrict civil society, free speech and religion within China. Now much of the world, including but not limited to China’s neighbors, is afraid of Chinese state power.

Now, because state power has its limits, it is difficult for China to solve many of its most fundamental problems. Chinese leaders are worried about the country’s low birth rate, for instance, but lifting restrictions on the number of children has not yet helped increase the birth rate. In many societies, it is religious families that have more children, but promoting religion is not a remedy that comes easily to China today.

And how will China deal with the pending spread of the omicron variant of Covid-19? The Communist Party staked its legitimacy on the claim that it could control Covid while the U.S. could not. Soon Chinese citizens may be in for a rude awakening, especially if the Chinese vaccines are not so effective.

Recommended.

Arnold Kling’s proposal for regulatory reform

To improve our agencies’ performance, we need to think about restructuring the federal bureaucracy itself.

I propose we do so by creating two positions within the executive branch that operate in tension with each other. The first would be the chief operating officer, charged with managing the administrative agencies. The second would be the chief auditor, charged with leading a watchdog agency that monitors the administrative state for effectiveness and abuses of authority. Both the president and Congress would oversee the balance of power between the two positions.

Much like that of a private firm, the chief operating officer (COO) of the regulatory state would direct the operations of the entire executive branch, including independent agencies like the FDA, the Federal Trade Commission, the Federal Communications Commission, the Federal Reserve Board, and the Patent and Trademark Office. The COO’s charge would be to maximize operational effectiveness. He would have the authority to make decisions without the approval of the president.

Unlike presidents, who tend to enter the Oval Office without having supervised anything larger than a Senate staff, the COO should come into office with strong organizational-management experience — ideally based on having led a large, private-sector firm. This person should be familiar with the challenges of improving incentive systems, streamlining organizational processes, planning, budgeting, facilitating coordination among disparate units, articulating objectives, and aligning organizational efforts toward those objectives. He should have the authority to put this experience to work within the regulatory state.

To unravel the tangle of agencies that are the legacy of so many congressional bills, the COO should be empowered to re-organize, restructure, merge, or eliminate any existing agencies, refine their missions, and appoint their directors.

And:

With a COO in charge of managing government agencies, the roles of Congress and the president would adjust accordingly. Congress would act more like a board of directors with respect to the agencies, and the president would act more like a board chairman. The COO would assume the responsibility of presenting a plan and budget to Congress for approval, while the president would have the authority to hire and fire the COO at will. In a spirit of conservative incrementalism, we could first apply the COO model to one functional domain, such as domestic infrastructure, before extending it to the others.

The second new position — the chief auditor (CA) — would lead a powerful audit agency that provides independent evaluations of agency performance.

Worth a read in full.

Solve for the Eastern equilibrium

Russia’s sabre-rattling in Ukraine has reignited the debate in Finland as to whether the Nordic country should join Nato, defying demands from Moscow that seek to limit expansion of the military alliance in Europe.

Both president Sauli Niinisto and prime minister Sanna Marin used their new year addresses to underscore that Finland retained the option of seeking Nato membership at any time.

“Let it be stated once again: Finland’s room to manoeuvre and freedom of choice also include the possibility of military alignment and of applying for Nato membership, should we ourselves so decide,” Niinisto said.

Here is more from Richard Milne at the FT.

Dan Wang’s 2021 letter

Here it is, one of the better written pieces of this (or last) year.  It is mostly about China, manufacturing, and economic policy, but here is the part I will quote:

But Hong Kong was also the most bureaucratic city I’ve ever lived in. Its business landscape has remained static for decades: the preserve of property developers that has created no noteworthy companies in the last three decades. That is a heritage of British colonial rule, in which administrators controlled economic elites by allocating land—the city’s most scarce resource—to the more docile. Hong Kong bureaucrats enforce the pettiest rules, I felt, out of a sense of pride. On the mainland, enforcers deal often enough with senseless rules that they are sometimes able to look the other way. Thus a stagnant spirit hangs over the city. I’ve written before that Philip K. Dick is useful not for thinking about Hong Kong’s skyline, but its tycoon-dominated polity: “governed by a competent but fundamentally pessimistic elite, which administers a population bent on consumption. Instead of being hooked on drugs and television like in PKD’s novels, people in Hong Kong are addicted to the extraordinary flow of liquidity from the mainland, which raises their asset values and dulls their senses.”

And then on Mozart:

Among these three works, Figaro is the most perfect and Don Giovanni the greatest. But I believe that Cosi is the best. Cosi is Mozart’s most strange and subtle opera, as well as his most dreamlike. If the Magic Flute might be considered a loose adaptation of Shakespeare’s Tempest—given their themes of darkness, enchantment, and salvation—then Cosi ought to be Mozart’s take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Donald Tovey called Cosi “a miracle of irresponsible beauty.” It needs to be qualified with “irresponsible” because its plot is, by consensus, idiotic. The premise is that two men try—on a dare—to seduce the other’s lover. A few fake poisonings and Albanian disguises later, each succeeds, to mutual distress. Every critic that professes to love the music of Cosi also discusses the story in anguished terms. Bernard Williams, for example, noted how puzzling it has been that Mozart chose to vest such great emotional power with his music into such a weak narrative structure. Joseph Kerman is more scathing, calling it “outrageous, immoral, and unworthy of Mozart.”

I readily concede that the music of Cosi so far exceeds its dramatic register.

Recommended!  There is much more at the link, substantive throughout.  Though I should note I am less bullish on both manufacturing and China than Dan is.  I fully agree about Bleak House, however, and at times I think it is the greatest novel written…

Don’t F*ck with Big Sugar

In Modern Principles, Tyler and I analyze the economics and politics of the sugar quota which raises the US price of sugar to about twice the world level. Doug Irwin points us to a revealing passage in John Boehner’s memoir, On the House:

Sugar was never really my fight, but I always thought it was a little silly that the sugar industry has all this power in Washington. But I liked to spend my time on issues I might actually be able to change, and I knew the chances of winning a fight with Big Sugar was basically zero.

At one point in the mid-1990s, I got fed up and decided to yank their chains anyway. I was on the Agricultural Committee and were getting ready to put together the 1996 farm bill. I walked into my office while this was going on and found a sugar lobbyist hanging around, trying to stay close to the action. I felt like being a smart-ass so I made some wise-crack about the sugar industry raping the taxpayers. Without another word, I walked into my private office and shut the door. I had no real plan to go after the sugar people. I was just screwing with the guy.

My phone did not stop ringing for the next five weeks….I had no idea how many people in my district were connected to the sugar industry. People were calling all day, telling me they made pumps or plugs or boxes or some other such part used in sugar production and I was threatening their job. Mayors called to tell me about employers their towns depended on who would be hurt by a sugar downturn. It was the most organize effort I had ever seen.

And that’s why don’t fuck with sugar.

Mary C. Daly understands the median voter theorem

Ms. Daly…has shifted her tone particularly dramatically in recent weeks…

As recently as mid-November, she had argued that the Fed should be patient in removing its support, avoiding an overreaction to inflation that might prove temporary and risk unnecessarily slowing the recovery of the labor market. But incoming data have confirmed that employers are still struggling to hire even as consumer prices are rising at the fastest clip in nearly 40 years. Rising rents and tangled supply chains could continue to push up inflation. And she’s running into more people like that woman in Walgreens.

“My community members are telling me they’re worried about inflation,” Ms. Daly said last week.

Here is the NYT story, and note she is not the most right-leaning member of the FOMC.  This, in a nutshell, is why I think inflation will converge to a reasonable level, albeit with a possibly high degree of pain along the way.