Category: Political Science

Freddie on worry porn

Bogost’s piece is an absolute classic, maybe the classic, in a particularly strange form of worry porn that progressives have become addicted to in the past half-decade. It’s this thing where they insist that they don’t want something to happen, but they describe it so lustily, imagine it so vividly, fixate on it so relentlessly, that it’s abundantly clear that a deep part of them wants it to happen. This was a constant experience in the Trump era – liberals would imagine that Trump was about to dissolve Congress and declare himself emperor, they’d ostensibly be opposed to such a thing, but they were so immensely invested in the seriousness and accuracy of such predictions that they’d clearly prefer for it to happen. I wrote about Chris Hayes and his bitter yearning for Trump last week, and he’s a good example, someone who ruminates on Trump and the dystopian future he might bring about with such palpable emotional pathology that it’s clear that, on some level, he needs it to happen, so that he can say “I was right.” And so with Bogost here; that level of anxious catastrophizing always carries with it the quiet, throbbing need for the bad dream to come true. Covid is already bad, very bad. I am always so confused that so many people seem desperately to want it to be worse.

Here is the full essay.

What should I ask Sebastian Mallaby?

From Wikipedia:

Sebastian Christopher Peter Mallaby (born May 1964) is an English journalist and author, Paul A. Volcker senior fellow for international economics at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), and contributing columnist at The Washington Post. Formerly, he was a contributing editor for the Financial Times and a columnist and editorial board member at The Washington Post.

His recent writing has been published in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Atlantic Monthly. In 2012, he published a Foreign Affairs essay on the future of China’s currency. His books include The Man Who Knew (2016), More Money Than God (2010), and The World’s Banker (2004).

I am also a big fan of his new and forthcoming book on venture capital, namely The Power Law: Venture Capital and the Making of a New Future.

So what should I ask him?

Which search engine does the most to limit conspiracy theorizing?

Web search engines are important online information intermediaries that are frequently used and highly trusted by the public despite multiple evidence of their outputs being subjected to inaccuracies and biases. One form of such inaccuracy, which so far received little scholarly attention, is the presence of conspiratorial information, namely pages promoting conspiracy theories. We address this gap by conducting a comparative algorithm audit to examine the distribution of conspiratorial information in search results across five search engines: Google, Bing, DuckDuckGo, Yahoo and Yandex. Using a virtual agent-based infrastructure, we systematically collect search outputs for six conspiracy theory-related queries (“flat earth”, “new world order”, “qanon”, “9/11”, “illuminati”, “george soros”) across three locations (two in the US and one in the UK) and two observation periods (March and May 2021). We find that all search engines except Google consistently displayed conspiracy-promoting results and returned links to conspiracy-dedicated websites in their top results, although the share of such content varied across queries. Most conspiracy-promoting results came from social media and conspiracy-dedicated websites while conspiracy-debunking information was shared by scientific websites and, to a lesser extent, legacy media. The fact that these observations are consistent across different locations and time periods highlight the possibility of some search engines systematically prioritizing conspiracy-promoting content and, thus, amplifying their distribution in the online environments.

Here is the full paper by Aleksandra Urmana, Mykola Makhortykhb, Roberto Ulloac, and Juhi Kulshrestha.  Of course it is also worth investigating which search engine does the most to “censor” true conspiracy theories.  Are there any?

Via Aleksandra Urman.

Many heads are more utilitarian than one

Highlights

Collective consensual judgments made via group interactions were more utilitarian than individual judgments.

Group discussion did not change the individual judgments indicating a normative conformity effect.

Individuals consented to a group judgment that they did not necessarily buy into personally.

Collectives were less stressed than individuals after responding to moral dilemmas.

Interactions reduced aversive emotions (e.g., stressed)associated with violation of moral norms.

Here is the full article by Anita Keshmirian, Ophelia Deroy, and Bahador Bahrami.  Via Michelle Dawson.

Israel fact of the day

The prevalence of consanguineous marriage among the Arab population in Israel increased significantly from 36.3% to 41.6% in the decade from 2007 to 2017. First-cousin and closer marriages constituted about 50% of total consanguineous marriages in the two periods surveyed. Consanguinity was found to be significantly related to religion and place of residence. Thus, the prevalence of consanguineous marriage remains high among the Arab population in Israel, similar to other Arab societies.

Here is the research paper, via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

Do we live in a “post-outrage” world?

From David Siders at Politico:

“I wish we lived in a world where outrage mattered. But I think we live in a post-outrage world, and voters today are affected only by that which directly affects them, which is why the economy, affordability and cost of living is such a major issue for so many people. While a lot of people will express sympathy for that 12-year-old girl in Texas who got raped but no longer can terminate her pregnancy, it’s not what motivates them to go to the polls, sadly.”

And some details:

Interviews with more than a dozen Democratic strategists, pollsters and officials reveal skepticism that the court’s decision will dramatically alter the midterm landscape unless — and perhaps not even then — Roe is completely overturned. Privately, several Democratic strategists have suggested the usefulness of any decision on abortion next year will be limited, and some may advise their clients not to focus on abortion rights at all.

Some of that thinking is colored by Virginia’s gubernatorial race earlier this year. After the Supreme Court allowed a law banning abortion after six weeks of pregnancy to take effect in Texas, the party was so sure abortion would resonate with voters that Democrat Terry McAuliffe made it a centerpiece of his campaign, saying “it will be a huge motivator for individuals to come out and vote.”

By the time ballots were cast, just 8 percent of voters listed abortion as the most important issue facing Virginia, according to exit polls. Even worse for Democrats, of the people who cared most about the issue, a majority voted for the Republican, Glenn Youngkin.

Cancellations up, outrage down — model that!

My Conversation with the excellent Ruth Scurr

A fine discourse all around, here is the transcript and audio.  Here is part of the CWT summary:

Ruth joined Tyler to discuss why she considers Danton the hero of the French Revolution, why the Jacobins were so male-obsessed, the wit behind Condorcet’s idea of a mechanical king, the influence of Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments during and after the Reign of Terror, why 18th-century French thinkers were obsessed with finding forms of government that would fit with emerging market forces, whether Hayek’s critique of French Enlightenment theorists is correct, the relationship between the French Revolution and today’s woke culture, the truth about Napoleon’s diplomatic skills, the poor prospects for pitching biographies to publishers, why Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws would be her desert island read, why Cambridge is a better city than Oxford, why the Times Literary Supplement remains important today, what she loves about Elena Ferrante’s writing, how she stays open as a biographer, and more.

And an excerpt:

COWEN: Is there a counterfactual path where the French Revolution simply works out well as a liberal revolution? If so, what would have needed to have been different?

SCURR: In terms of counterfactuals, the one I thought most about was, What would have happened if Robespierre hadn’t fallen at Thermidor and the relationship between him and [Louis Antoine Léon de] Saint-Just had continued? But that’s not the triumph of the liberal revolution. That would have merely been a continuation of the point they had gotten to. For a triumph of the liberal revolution, that would have needed to be much, much earlier.

I think that it was almost impossible for them to get a liberal constitution in place in time to make that a possibility. What you have is 1789, the liberal aspirations, the hopes, the Declaration of Rights; and then there is almost a hiatus period in which they are struggling to design the institutions. And that is the period which, if it could have been compressed, if there could have been more quickly a stability introduced . . .

Some of the people I’m most interested in in that period were very interested in what has to be true about the society in order for it to have a stable constitution. Obviously when you’re in the middle of a revolution and you’re struggling to come up with those solutions, then there is the opening to chaos.

Definitely recommended.  And I am again happy to recommend Ruth’s new book Napoleon: A Life Told in Gardens and Shadows.

How Texas is processing its past

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

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

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

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

Recommended.

Your political views are not your own

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

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

What should I ask Russ Roberts?

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

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

The next Fed chair

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

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

The weirdness of government variation in Covid-19 responses

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

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

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

It’s similar when you look at American jurisdictions.

And:

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

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

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

Where to put your nuclear arsenal

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

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

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

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

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

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

That doesn’t mean MAD is invalid, however.

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

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

That is from Andy Lewicky.

Increased politicization and homogeneity in NSF grants

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

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