Results for “mood affiliation”
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Is the treatment positive expected value, or negative expected value?

Well, which one is it?

If you consider the treatments of remdesivir or monoclonal antibodies for President Trump, their application is either positive expected value or negative expected value.

If they are positive expected value, you should be for using them!  (I don’t mean that as a political statement, sub in another patient’s name if you need to.)

If they are negative expected value, you should oppose the current widespread use of remdesivir in hospitals (not necessarily in every case, of course), and you should probably oppose the Advance Market Commitment already in place for Regeneron’s monoclonal antibody treatment, not to mention its successful advance through various trials.

I don’t see anyone taking those stances.

Instead, I see commentators — including highly esteemed public health experts — claiming there is not yet enough data, “expressing reservations,” referring to other public health catastrophes, referring to more general irresponsible habits of the patient under consideration, and serving up various other rhetorical devices to indicate a negative attitude toward the treatment without actually saying “I think this treatment is negative expected value.”

That is a very bad thought and writing habit!

Made worse by Twitter, I might add.  You are trying to create negative affect and mood affiliation without making the corresponding epistemic and predictive commitment.

Please just say you think it is negative expected value, and then apply that view consistently across the board.  Stand your ground and defend it.

Or if you think it is positive expected value, praise its use, and then of course it is fine to add qualifiers and reservations.

If you genuinely have no opinion (ha), it is fine to say that too, but then you can drop the negative rhetoric and maybe don’t tweet about it at all.

To be sure, there are various heterogeneities and I am not applying the appropriate qualifiers in each sentence above, for reasons of expositional convenience.  For instance, is Trump different from other patients?  Are the treatments being applied at the right time?  Who exactly has the private information here?  And so on.  Incorporating those factors should not change the basic analysis above, though for the most part they should push you toward a more positive attitude toward the treatments.

Why I like Nate Silver

There are standard reasons to like Nate Silver, which I do not wish to deny.  But here is what I find striking: whenever he considers political or normative questions, he continues to use his full range of intellect and emotional maturity.

Many other commentators, once they run into normative or philosophical issues, or perhaps issues of political theory, or even political science, pull out arbitrary unsupported dogmatisms and partisan mood affiliation.  Or perhaps they will use correct but shallow truisms they heard on the radio or read in a magazine or newspaper, without realizing that deeper levels of analysis are possible.  Or they may use incorrect but shallow truisms from MSM.  Either way, at some point the analysis simply falls apart, even if many of its constituent parts are well-informed or perhaps even expert.

It seems to me that Nate avoids this.  I now consider this an increasingly important quality in commentators, especially if those commentators are active on social media.

And it is not that I agree with Nate all of the time on politics.  I’m not saying this “because he ends up where I am.”

I will try to think about who else is very good in this regard, and how we might nourish this quality in ourselves.

Rescheduling for thee, but not for me

When Wisconsin Republicans refused to move their election day, Democrats, experts, and various media types decried the decision as immoral and dangerous during a pandemic. “Regularly scheduled, orderly elections with direct governmental consequences were either too dangerous, or insufficiently compelling,” Adam wrote in a late-night email. “Contrast that, of course, with Democrats’s evident belief that we absolutely must not delay these protests against police brutality. The protests—spontaneous not scheduled, disorderly not orderly, emotive not concretely consequential—simply had to go on.”

Protests and demonstrations are more important and indispensable than elections. The deliberate act of voting, essential to a democracy, can be put on a schedule delay but political catharsis must proceed on its own schedule. Mario Cuomo used to say that “We campaign in poetry but we govern in prose.” Now it’s poetry or nothing.

Here is more by Jonah Goldberg.  I am not looking to attack or make trouble for any individual person here, so no link or name, but this is from a leading figure in biology and also a regular commenter on epidemiology:

As a citizen, I wholeheartedly support the protests nonetheless.

My worries run deep.  Should the original lockdown recommendations have been asterisked with a “this is my lesser, non-citizen self speaking” disclaimer?  Should those who broke the earlier lockdowns, to save their jobs or visit their relatives, or go to their churches, or they wanted to see their dying grandma but couldn’t…have been able to cite their role as “citizens” as good reason for opposing the recommendations of the “scientists”?  Does the author have much scientific expertise in how likely these protests are to prove successful?  Does typing the word “c-i-t-i-z-e-n” relieve one of the burden of estimating how much public health credibility will be lost if/when we are told that another lockdown is needed to forestall a really quite possible second wave?  Does the author have a deep understanding of the actual literature on the “science/citizen” distinction, value freedom in science, the normative role of the advisor, and so on?  Does the implicit portrait painted by that tweet imply a radically desiccated, and indeed segregated role of the notions of “scientist” and “citizen”?  Would you trust a scientist like that for advice?  Should you?  And shouldn’t he endorse the protests “2/3 heartedly” or so, rather than “wholeheartedly”?  Isn’t that the mood affiliation talking?

On May 20th, the same source called a Trump plan for rapid reopening (churches too, and much more) “extraordinarily dangerous” — was that the scientist or the citizen talking?  And were we told which at the time?  Andreas’s comments at that above link are exactly on the mark, especially the point that the fragile consensus for the acceptability of lockdown will be difficult to recreate ever again.

If you would like a different perspective, bravo to Dan Diamond.  Here is his article.  And here are some better options for public health experts.  Here is a useful (very rough) estimate of expected fatalities from the protests, though it does not take all-important demonstration effects into account.  I can say I give credit to the initial source (the one I am criticizing) for passing that tweet storm along.

We really very drastically need to raise the quality and credibility of the advice given here.

Have we already defunded the police?

Here is more complete data on police expenditures, interesting throughout, via Charles Fain Lehman.  The sociology of this issue I find fascinating.  Usually in Progressive lore, if you defund an agency, you lower its quality and make it all the more dysfunctional.  But in this case, defunding the bureaucracy, namely the police, is supposed to solve the problem.  Is there anywhere a well-worked out model of why this particular bureaucracy might be different from the others?  (Maybe it is, I would gladly link to such an argument!)  Or, dare I say it, is this just mood affiliation and once again…politics isn’t about policy.  I’ll give 4-1 odds on the latter.

On the all too frequent split between theory and practice

I know some people who react very fearfully each time a package comes to the door, or when a jogger passes ten feet away.

Maybe those people are right to have that response!  (Suspend judgment for the time being.)  But if they are right, and the risk is real rather than truly tiny, it is hard to imagine lockdown working.  We can’t eliminate all risk, and we will end up with a fairly high percentage of the population infected fairly quickly.  After all, danger is almost everywhere (in this view).  If you run a pretty high risk of getting infected over the next month or two anyway, you might as well go buy some shoes at Nordstrom for your trouble.

What is noteworthy is that these fearful people tend to be very supportive of lockdown.

On the other side of the coin, some individuals defend the Swedish model.  Presumably they believe that herd immunity can be achieved relatively quickly, and with a high upfront cost the medium- and long-term can be fairly safe, with a net gain overall.

Yet if you accept those presuppositions (suspend judgment for the time being), in fact you ought to behave in a very fearful manner.  Just stay at home and wait until herd immunity arrives in late summer or whenever, and then go out and have all of your fun.  Let the Nordstrom shoes wait!

Yet advocates of the Swedish model also seem quite interested in going out and frolicking in the shorter run.

In reality, mood affiliation may be playing a role here.  People side with either “caution and fearfulness,” or with “openness and boldness,” and then both their theories and behavior follow accordingly.

In reality, the Swedish model advocates ought to behave quite cautiously and lockdown advocates should be willing to take more chances.

What I’ve been reading

1. Jordan Mechner, The Making of Prince of Persia: Journals 1985-1993.  A memoir and game development journal from a game developer.  The content is foreign to me, but this is one of the most beautiful and artistic books I ever have seen and I suspect some of you will find the narrative gripping.  A product of Stripe Press — “Ideas for Progress.”

2. Jeffrey D. Sachs, The Ages of Globalization: Geography, Technology, and Institutions.  This book is a series of lectures, based on Sachs’s earlier work on economic geography and development, yet somehow with a vaguely Yuval Harari sort of glow.  Some parts are a good introduction to the earlier work of Sachs, other parts are pitched a bit too low or too generally.  It is strange to see chapter subheadings such as “Thalassocracy and Tellurocracy.”  As an economist, I still maintain that Sachs is considerably underrated.

3. Susanna Clarke, Piranesi.  Yes this is a work of fiction.  Clarke of course wrote Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, a very long novel that I have read twice, an odd mix of fantasy, science, magic, and Enlightenment esotericism, the only novel I know with fascinating footnotes.  I was thrilled to receive this one, and on p.51 I am still excited.

4. Mieko Kawakami, Breasts and Eggs.  The hot new novel from Japan, it comes with a Murakami rave endorsement.  To me it seems like “ordinary feminism” (not that there’s anything wrong with that), and so far it is a bore.  If it doesn’t get better soon, I’ll write it off as a “mood affiliation text,” not that there’s anything wrong with that.  It probably makes most sense read in a very specific cultural context.

5. Douglas Boin, Alaric the Goth: An Outsider’s History of the Fall of Rome is a fun look at one part of ancient history through alternative eyes.  I always wonder what to trust about this era other than primary sources, and if you can’t understand them or grasp them intelligibly maybe that is itself the correct inference, namely that we have no idea what the **** went on back then.  Still, as imaginary reconstructions go, this is one that ought to be done and now it is.

6. Ryan Patrick Hanley, Our Great Purpose: Adam Smith on Living a Better Life.  Smith as a practical moral philosopher, this short volume pulls out the side of Smith closest to Montaigne and the Stoics.  You can ponder Smithian sentences such as “The great source of both the misery and disorders of human life, seems to arise from over-rating the difference between one permanent situation and another.”

7. Sonia Jaffe, Robert Minton, Casey B. Mulligan, Kevin M. Murphy, Chicago Price Theory.  A very good intermediate micro text, patterned after how Econ 301 is taught at Chicago.  Apparently in the current Coasean equilibrum, this book ends up published by Princeton University Press.  Get the picture?

From a legal perspective there is Ron Harris, Going the Distance: Eurasian Trade and the Rise of the Business Corporation, 1400-1700.

“Social Distancing is Working so Well!”

How do you feel about that statement?  I take this as one psychometric test.

If your reaction is: “My goodness, these are tragic times but it is splendid and noble how we all can come together and sacrifice for a common endeavor!”…well…

…you have failed my test and I will suspect a wee bit of mood affiliation.  Most likely it is bad news if the relative safety (for some) of the current moment comes from social distancing.  Because at some point social distancing must end, or at least be significantly curtailed, and then a higher danger level may well reemerge.

Possibly you have inside information that a cure will be ready next week, but somehow I doubt it.  You are happy because you like something about the process.

Alternatively, if you hear “social distancing is working so well!” and immediately feel a deep sense of foreboding, and begin to calculate whether good short-term results are correlated with better or worse long-term results.  And then you calculate how how long the distancing can last for, due to governmental budget constraints, and then try to figure out what kinds of progress we might make in the meantime while the distancing lasts, and then start worrying about how reliant on social distancing we are becoming…

…But then you undertake a second-order calculation about how the greater danger spurred by the forthcoming decline in social distancing also might spur innovation…

And then you think “would it not be better if the current progress came from a more sustainable source, what might that be, how about faster than expected herd immunity amongst a relatively small group of heterogeneous super-spreaders, now what is the chance of that?”…

…and finish your analysis confused…

Then you are my kind of weirdo.

We are living in a time of psychometric tests.

From my email, a note about epidemiology

This is all from my correspondent, I won’t do any further indentation and I have removed some identifying information, here goes:

“First, some background on who I am.  After taking degrees in math and civil engineering at [very very good school], I studied infectious disease epidemiology at [another very, very good school] because I thought it would make for a fulfilling career.  However, I became disillusioned with the enterprise for three reasons:

  1. Data is limited and often inaccurate in the critical forecasting window, leading to very large confidence bands for predictions
  2. Unless the disease has been seen before, the underlying dynamics may be sufficiently vague to make your predictions totally useless if you do not correctly specify the model structure
  3. Modeling is secondary to the governmental response (e.g., effective contact tracing) and individual action (e.g., social distancing, wearing masks)

Now I work as a quantitative analyst for [very, very good firm], and I don’t regret leaving epidemiology behind.  Anyway, on to your questions…

What is an epidemiologist’s pay structure?

The vast majority of trained epidemiologists who would have the necessary knowledge to build models are employed in academia or the public sector; so their pay is generally average/below average for what you would expect in the private sector for the same quantitative skill set.  So, aside from reputational enhancement/degradation, there’s not much of an incentive to produce accurate epidemic forecasts – at least not in monetary terms.  Presumably there is better money to be made running clinical trials for drug companies.

On your question about hiring, I can’t say how meritocratic the labor market is for quantitative modelers.  I can say though that there is no central lodestar, like Navier-Stokes in fluid dynamics, that guides the modeling framework.  True, SIR, SEIR, and other compartmental models are widely used and accepted; however, the innovations attached to them can be numerous in a way that does not suggest parsimony.

How smart are epidemiologists?

The quantitative modelers are generally much smarter than the people performing contact tracing or qualitative epidemiology studies.  However, if I’m being completely honest, their intelligence is probably lower than the average engineering professor – and certainly below that of mathematicians and statisticians.

My GRE scores were very good, and I found epidemiology to be a very interesting subject – plus, I can be pretty oblivious to what other people think.  Yet when I told several of my professors in math and engineering of my plans, it was hard for me to miss their looks of disappointment.  It’s just not a track that driven, intelligent people with a hint of quantitative ability take.

What is the political orientation of epidemiologists?  What is their social welfare function?

Left, left, left.  In the United States, I would be shocked if more than 2-5% of epidemiologists voted for Republicans in 2016 – at least among academics.  At [aforementioned very very good school], I’d be surprised if the number was 1%.  I remember the various unprompted bashing of Trump and generic Republicans on political matters unrelated to epidemiology in at least four classes during the 2016-17 academic year.  Add that to the (literal) days of mourning after the election, it’s fair to say that academic epidemiologists are pretty solidly in the left-wing camp. (Note: I didn’t vote for Trump or any other Republican in 2016 or 2018)

I was pleasantly surprised during my time at [very, very good school] that there was at least some discussion of cost-benefit analysis for public health actions, including quarantine procedures.  Realistically though, there’s a dominant strain of thought that the economic costs of an action are secondary to stopping the spread of an epidemic.  To summarize the SWF: damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead!

Do epidemiologists perform uncertainty quantification?

They seem to play around with tools like the ensemble Kalman filter (found in weather forecasting) and stochastic differential equations, but it’s fair to say that mechanical engineers are much better at accounting for uncertainty (especially in parameters and boundary conditions) in their simulations than epidemiologists.  By extension, that probably means that econometricians are better too.”

TC again: I am happy to pass along other well-thought out perspectives on this matter, and I would like to hear a more positive take.  Please note I am not endorsing these (or subsequent) observations, I genuinely do not know, and I will repeat I do not think economists are likely better.  It simply seems to me that “who are these epidemiologists anyway?” is a question now worth addressing, and hardly anyone is willing to do that.

As an opening gambit, I’d like to propose that we pay epidemiologists more.  (And one of my correspondents points out they are too often paid on “soft money.”)  I know, I know, this plays with your mood affiliation.  You would like to find a way of endorsing that conclusion, without simultaneously admitting that right now maybe the quality isn’t quite high enough.

Rooftops, and warm ones at that

Our best tool is to compare Labour’s 2019 manifesto against the Sanders’ economic platform. Doing so makes clear that Bernie is more radical than Corbyn on economics, both in absolute terms and relative to their countries’ respective politics.

Take the size of government. The Manhattan Institute’s Brian Riedl calculates that Sanders’ promises would add $97.5 trillion to spending over a decade, taking total annual US government spending to around 70% of GDP and more than doubling the size of the federal government. Even if climate investments prove a one-off, spending would settle at a massive 64% of GDP. That’s far higher than Labour’s planned 44% and even France’s current 57% (itself the highest in the OECD).

A look at certain individual spending areas also underlines just how radical the Sanders agenda is. Like Labour, he wants government-funded free public higher education. Unlike Labour, he’d also forgive all existing student debts. On climate change and infrastructure, Labour planned for £400 billion investment over 10 years (about 20% of current annual UK GDP). Sanders wants to invest $16.3 trillion over 15 years (about 75% of current annual US GDP.) On healthcare, both want government spending to expand to cover all medical treatment, prescription charges, long-term care for the elderly, and dentistry. But only Sanders would explicitly ban private health insurance (Labour did consider that proposal but held off in the end).

True, Corbyn and McDonnell favoured nationalising buses, railways, the energy sector, water, and parts of the broadband network. Corbyn even wanted free government-funded broadband for all. But even here the results of Sanders’ pledges would bring similar results. He would set up “publicly owned” and “democratically controlled” broadband networks. And his Green New Deal would bring most public transport under government control and deliver effective public ownership of energy production.

When it comes to financing their promises, Sanders is arguably more radical again. Labour planned to only borrow to invest, raising the deficit by about 2% of GDP per year. But Bernie’s tax plans get nowhere near fully funding his agenda. Absent further broad-based tax rises, Riedl calculates annual borrowing would soar to around 30% of US GDP if his spending plans were implemented…

Combined with national insurance, Labour’s top marginal income tax rate would have been 52%. Sanders’ top federal income tax rate alone would be 52%, bringing a top combined top rate of around 80% once state and payroll taxes are considered. Sanders wants a new wealth tax too, another option Labour shirked. And while Labour wanted to raise the UK’s main corporation tax rate to 26%, Bernie would opt for 35% with a broad base.

That is from Ryan Bourne of Cato, and yes there is more at the link.

I would put it this way: right now we are sampling the offer curve of left-wing intellectuals and activists for “prioritizing climate change” vs. “mood affiliation,” and…let us hope for the best!

Here is Daron Acemoglu on Bernie Sanders.

The economic policy of Elizabeth Warren

Jerry Taylor has made some positive noises about her on Twitter lately, as had Will Wilkinson in earlier times.  I genuinely do not see the appeal here, not even for Democrats.  Let’s do a quick survey of some of her core views:

1. She wants to ban fracking through executive order.  This would enrich Russia and Saudi Arabia, harm the American economy ($3.5 trillion stock market gains from fracking), make our energy supply less green, and make our foreign policy more dependent on bad regimes and the Middle East.  It is perhaps the single worst policy idea I have heard this last year, and some of the worst possible politics for beating Trump in states such as Pennsylvania.

2. Her private equity plan.  Making private equity managers personally responsible for the debts of the companies they acquire probably would crush the sector.  The economic evidence on private equity is mostly quite positive.  Maybe she would eliminate the worst features of her plan, but can you imagine her saying on open camera that private equity is mostly good for the American economy?  I can’t.

3. Her farm plan.  It seems to be more nationalistic and protectionist and also more permanent than Trump’s, read here.

4. Her tax plan I: Some of the wealthy would see marginal rates above 100 percent.

5. Her tax plan II: Her proposed wealth tax would over time lead to rates of taxation on capital gains of at least 60 to 70 percent, much higher than any wealthy country ever has succeeded with.  And frankly no one has come close to rebutting the devastating critique from Larry Summers.

6. Student debt forgiveness:  The data-driven people I know on the left all admit this is welfare for the relatively well-off, rather than a truly egalitarian approach to poverty and opportunity.  Cost is estimated at $1.6 trillion, by the way (is trillion the new billion?).  Furthermore, what are the long-run effects on the higher education sector?  Do banks lend like crazy next time around, expecting to be bailed out by the government?  Or do banks cut back their lending, fearing a haircut on bailout number two?  I am genuinely not sure, but thinking the question through does not reassure me.

7. College free for all: Would wreck the relatively high quality of America’s state-run colleges and universities, which cover about 78 percent of all U.S. students and are the envy of other countries worldwide and furthermore a major source of American soft power.  Makes sense only if you are a Caplanian on higher ed., and furthermore like student debt forgiveness this plan isn’t that egalitarian, as many of the neediest don’t finish high school, do not wish to start college, cannot finish college, or already reject near-free local options for higher education, typically involving community colleges.

8. Health care policy: Her various takes on this, including the $52 trillion plan, are better thought of as (vacillating) political strategy than policy per se.  In any case, no matter what your view on health care policy she has botched it, and several other Dem candidates have a better track record in this area.  Even Paul Krugman insists that the Democrats should move away from single-payer purity.  It is hard to give her net positive points on this one, again no matter what your policy views on health care, or even no matter what her views may happen to be on a particular day.

All of my analysis, I should note, can be derived internal to Democratic Party economics, and it does not require any dose of libertarianism.

9. Breaking up the Big Tech companies: I am strongly opposed to this, and I view it as yet another attack/destruction on a leading and innovative American sector.  I will say this, though: unlike the rest of the list above, I know smart economists (and tech experts) who favor some version of the policy.  Still, I don’t see why Jerry and Will should like this promise so much.

Those are some pretty major sectors of the U.S. economy, it is not like making a few random mistakes with the regulation of toothpicks.  In fact they are the major sectors of the U.S. economy, and each and every one of them would take a big hit.

More generally, she seems to be a fan of instituting policies through executive order, a big minus in my view and probably for Jerry and Will as well?  Villainization and polarization are consistent themes in her rhetoric, and at this point it doesn’t seem her chances for either the nomination, or beating Trump, are strong in fact her conditional chance of victory is well below that of the other major Dem candidates.  So what really are you getting for all of these outbursts?

When I add all that up, she seems to have the worst economic and political policies of any candidate in my adult lifetime, with the possible exception of Bernie Sanders (whose views are often less detailed).

I do readily admit this: Warren is a genius at exciting the egalitarian and anti-business mood affiliation of our coastal media and academic elites.

If you would like to read defenses of Warren, here is Ezra Klein and here is Henry Farrell.  I think they both plausibly point to parts of the Warren program that might be good (more good for them than for me I should add, but still I can grasp the other arguments on her behalf).  They don’t much respond to the point that on #1-8, and possibly #1-9, she has the worst economic and political policies of any candidate in my adult lifetime.

For Jerry and Will, I just don’t see the attraction at all.

That said, on her foreign policy, which I have not spent much time with, she might be better, so of course you should consider the whole picture.  And quite possibly there are other candidates who, for other reasons, are worse yet, not hard to think of some.  Or you might wish to see a woman president.  Or you might think she would stir up “good discourse” on the issues you care about.  And I fully understand that most of the Warren agenda would not pass.

So I’m not trying to talk you out of supporting her!  Still, I would like to design and put into the public domain a small emoji, one that you could add to the bottom of your columns and tweets.  It would stand in for: “Yes I support her, but she has the worst proposed economic policies of any candidate in the adult lifetime of Tyler Cowen.”

What libertarianism has become and will become — State Capacity Libertarianism

Having tracked the libertarian “movement” for much of my life, I believe it is now pretty much hollowed out, at least in terms of flow.  One branch split off into Ron Paul-ism and less savory alt right directions, and another, more establishment branch remains out there in force but not really commanding new adherents.  For one thing, it doesn’t seem that old-style libertarianism can solve or even very well address a number of major problems, most significantly climate change.  For another, smart people are on the internet, and the internet seems to encourage synthetic and eclectic views, at least among the smart and curious.  Unlike the mass culture of the 1970s, it does not tend to breed “capital L Libertarianism.”  On top of all that, the out-migration from narrowly libertarian views has been severe, most of all from educated women.

There is also the word “classical liberal,” but what is “classical” supposed to mean that is not question-begging?  The classical liberalism of its time focused on 19th century problems — appropriate for the 19th century of course — but from WWII onwards it has been a very different ballgame.

Along the way, I believe the smart classical liberals and libertarians have, as if guided by an invisible hand, evolved into a view that I dub with the entirely non-sticky name of State Capacity Libertarianism.  I define State Capacity Libertarianism in terms of a number of propositions:

1. Markets and capitalism are very powerful, give them their due.

2. Earlier in history, a strong state was necessary to back the formation of capitalism and also to protect individual rights (do read Koyama and Johnson on state capacity).  Strong states remain necessary to maintain and extend capitalism and markets.  This includes keeping China at bay abroad and keeping elections free from foreign interference, as well as developing effective laws and regulations for intangible capital, intellectual property, and the new world of the internet.  (If you’ve read my other works, you will know this is not a call for massive regulation of Big Tech.)

3. A strong state is distinct from a very large or tyrannical state.  A good strong state should see the maintenance and extension of capitalism as one of its primary duties, in many cases its #1 duty.

4. Rapid increases in state capacity can be very dangerous (earlier Japan, Germany), but high levels of state capacity are not inherently tyrannical.  Denmark should in fact have a smaller government, but it is still one of the freer and more secure places in the world, at least for Danish citizens albeit not for everybody.

5. Many of the failures of today’s America are failures of excess regulation, but many others are failures of state capacity.  Our governments cannot address climate change, much improve K-12 education, fix traffic congestion, or improve the quality of their discretionary spending.  Much of our physical infrastructure is stagnant or declining in quality.  I favor much more immigration, nonetheless I think our government needs clear standards for who cannot get in, who will be forced to leave, and a workable court system to back all that up and today we do not have that either.

Those problems require state capacity — albeit to boost markets — in a way that classical libertarianism is poorly suited to deal with.  Furthermore, libertarianism is parasitic upon State Capacity Libertarianism to some degree.  For instance, even if you favor education privatization, in the shorter run we still need to make the current system much better.  That would even make privatization easier, if that is your goal.

6. I will cite again the philosophical framework of my book Stubborn Attachments: A Vision for a Society of Free, Prosperous, and Responsible Individuals.

7. The fundamental growth experience of recent decades has been the rise of capitalism, markets, and high living standards in East Asia, and State Capacity Libertarianism has no problem or embarrassment in endorsing those developments.  It remains the case that such progress (or better) could have been made with more markets and less government.  Still, state capacity had to grow in those countries and indeed it did.  Public health improvements are another major success story of our time, and those have relied heavily on state capacity — let’s just admit it.

8. The major problem areas of our time have been Africa and South Asia.  They are both lacking in markets and also in state capacity.

9. State Capacity Libertarians are more likely to have positive views of infrastructure, science subsidies, nuclear power (requires state support!), and space programs than are mainstream libertarians or modern Democrats.  Modern Democrats often claim to favor those items, and sincerely in my view, but de facto they are very willing to sacrifice them for redistribution, egalitarian and fairness concerns, mood affiliation, and serving traditional Democratic interest groups.  For instance, modern Democrats have run New York for some time now, and they’ve done a terrible job building and fixing things.  Nor are Democrats doing much to boost nuclear power as a partial solution to climate change, if anything the contrary.

10. State Capacity Libertarianism has no problem endorsing higher quality government and governance, whereas traditional libertarianism is more likely to embrace or at least be wishy-washy toward small, corrupt regimes, due to some of the residual liberties they leave behind.

11. State Capacity Libertarianism is not non-interventionist in foreign policy, as it believes in strong alliances with other relatively free nations, when feasible.  That said, the usual libertarian “problems of intervention because government makes a lot of mistakes” bar still should be applied to specific military actions.  But the alliances can be hugely beneficial, as illustrated by much of 20th century foreign policy and today much of Asia — which still relies on Pax Americana.

It is interesting to contrast State Capacity Libertarianism to liberaltarianism, another offshoot of libertarianism.  On most substantive issues, the liberaltarians might be very close to State Capacity Libertarians.  But emphasis and focus really matter, and I would offer this (partial) list of differences:

a. The liberaltarian starts by assuring “the left” that they favor lots of government transfer programs.  The State Capacity Libertarian recognizes that demands of mercy are never ending, that economic growth can benefit people more than transfers, and, within the governmental sphere, it is willing to emphasize an analytical, “cold-hearted” comparison between government discretionary spending and transfer spending.  Discretionary spending might well win out at many margins.

b. The “polarizing Left” is explicitly opposed to a lot of capitalism, and de facto standing in opposition to state capacity, due to the polarization, which tends to thwart problem-solving.  The polarizing Left is thus a bigger villain for State Capacity Libertarianism than it is for liberaltarianism.  For the liberaltarians, temporary alliances with the polarizing Left are possible because both oppose Trump and other bad elements of the right wing.  It is easy — maybe too easy — to market liberaltarianism to the Left as a critique and revision of libertarians and conservatives.

c. Liberaltarian Will Wilkinson made the mistake of expressing enthusiasm for Elizabeth Warren.  It is hard to imagine a State Capacity Libertarian making this same mistake, since so much of Warren’s energy is directed toward tearing down American business.  Ban fracking? Really?  Send money to Russia, Saudi Arabia, lose American jobs, and make climate change worse, all at the same time?  Nope.

d. State Capacity Libertarianism is more likely to make a mistake of say endorsing high-speed rail from LA to Sf (if indeed that is a mistake), and decrying the ability of U.S. governments to get such a thing done.  “Which mistakes they are most likely to commit” is an underrated way of assessing political philosophies.

You will note the influence of Peter Thiel on State Capacity Libertarianism, though I have never heard him frame the issues in this way.

Furthermore, “which ideas survive well in internet debate” has been an important filter on the evolution of the doctrine.  That point is under-discussed, for all sorts of issues, and it may get a blog post of its own.

Here is my earlier essay on the paradox of libertarianism, relevant for background.

Happy New Year everyone!

What to think about Modi these days

Ian Bremmer offers one account of all the wrongdoing, which I will not summarize here.  In any case, many of you have asked me what I think of these recent events.

I do not at all favor replacing India’s secular democracy with “Hindu nation” as a ruling principle.  For one thing, I believe in strong libertarian protections for minority rights against state power, including for Muslims.  I also believe these moves will be bad for India’s economy.  Nonetheless I find most of the extant commentary on Modi fairly misleading and/or naive.

As this outsider sees it, India’s secular democracy was never liberal.  It had certain de facto liberal elements, but largely out of low levels of state capacity, necessitating a kind of tolerance but of course also leading to a very sub-par infrastructure.  Furthermore, it has been commonly described by political scientists as a “democracy without accountability.”  National voting has so much to do with religion, caste, and other particularistic principles that Indian democracy never enforced superior practical performance as it should have.

Then enter several forces at more or less the same time, including Modi, ongoing Indian economic growth, higher expectations and thus greater demands for state capacity, a rise in what is called “populism,” and also an increase in the focality of Islam and also terrorism around the world.

In essence that state capacity starts to be built and part of it is turned to wrong ends, in an attempt to appeal to the roughly 80 percent Hindu majority.  Here is the NYT:

The Modi administration has also done a better job than previous governments in pushing big anti-poverty initiatives, such as building 100 million toilets to help stop open defecation and the spread of deadly disease.

In other words, the positive and negative sides of the story here may be more closely related than is comfortable to contemplate.  The picture reminds me a bit of how parts of Renaissance Europe were often more anti-Semitic or racist than medieval Europe, in part because persecuting states had more resources and it was easier to mobilize intolerant sentiment, partly due to the printing press.  I don’t however idolize medieval times as being so libertarian, rather the earlier ideology contained the seeds of the Renaissance oppressions, which in time turned into foreign imperialism as well.

Similarly, oppression and religious conflict is hardly news in India, for instance you may recall the Partition which in the 1940s killed at least one million people and displaced at least 10 million more.

None of this is to excuse any of these oppressions, whether in India or elsewhere.  The libertarian rights still ought to apply, and should be written into the Indian constitution and laws more firmly.

(It is an interesting and much under-discussed result that the greatest violations of libertarian rights tend to come in periods of high delta in state capacity, not high absolute levels of state capacity per se.  The Nazi government was not that large as a percentage of gdp, but it was growing rapidly in terms of its efficacy along certain dimensions.)

The moral and resonant message here is “libertarian rights for minorities truly are important and beware state power!”  And somehow we need to think strategically, at a deep level, how that message can be combined with the inevitable and indeed desirable growth in Indian state capacity.  The libertarians only make this their issue by eliding the need for growth in state capacity.  So they moralize correctly about the situation, but they don’t see the underlying dilemma so clearly either.

Consider this NYT passage:

“Modi is not a normal politician who measures his success only by votes,” said Kanchan Chandra, a political scientist at New York University. “He sees himself as the architect of a new India, built on a foundation of technological, cultural, economic and military prowess, and backed by an ideology of Hindu nationalism.”

The real question here is — still mostly unanswered — “what else is the new ideology of state capacity supposed to be?”  I am happy to put in my vote for Anglo-American liberalism, but still I recognize that probably will not command either a majority or even a plurality.

Here is one proffered alternative to Modi:

“Rahul Gandhi felt people would support the Congress on issues of farmers, youth, employment, inflation. But, the core issues were left behind and surgical strikes and nationalism were highlighted. The Congress was dubbed a Muslim party. Aren’t we nationalists?” Gehlot asked.

I am not so impressed.  Or try this discussion “What is alternative to ‘Modi cult'”.  Again, on the ideas front underwhelming, at least for this classical liberal.  Maybe something good can come out of the current protest movement (NYT).

All the more, the “establishment media” just isn’t interested in framing the story in terms of individual rights and constraints on democracy.  That narrative is too…well…libertarian and also anti-statist.

For one example, blame either Nilinjana Roy or the person who titled her FT column “Democracy in India is on the brink.”  Last I checked, Modi was elected, then re-elected, and his party and its allies control almost 2/3 of the lower house.  That is truly an Orwellian column title.  It should not be so hard to write “The problem with Modi is the statism, and lack of respect for minority rights, sadly this is democratically certified and thus democracy requires real constitutional constraint of the powers of the government.”  But so many people today are mentally and emotionally incapable of thinking and writing such thoughts, having spent so much time in their mood affiliation glorifying “democracy” (or what they take to be democracy) above all other values.

So we should be spending our time developing and publicizing a new (non-Modi) ideology for greater state capacity in India, combined of course with greater liberty.

And yes, please do restore, redefine, re-enforce or in some cases discover all of the required minority libertarian rights.  Hundreds of millions of Indians and others are counting on it.

*Capital and Ideology*, by Thomas Piketty

This book is more than 1000 pp., here are my impressions:

1. About 600 pp. of this book is a carefully done history of the accumulation and sometimes dissipation of wealth and property.  You can evaluate that material without reference to any particular set of political views.

2. At some point the book veers into partisan issues such as the wealth tax.  Many of those parts remain interesting, but it also becomes clear that Piketty is “out to lunch,” to wit (p.591):

To return to the Soviet attitude toward poverty, it is important to try to understand why the government took such a radical stance against all forms of private ownership of the means of production, no matter how small.  Criminalizing carters and food peddlers to the point of incarcerating them may seem absurd, but there was a certain logic to the policy.  Most important was the fear of not knowing where to stop.  If one began by authorizing private ownership of small businesses, would one be able to set limits?

I can think of a less naive explanation of Soviet attitudes toward the private sector.  Piketty also calls for “participatory socialism” (p.592), a dubious doctrine not to be confused with say Nordic social democracy.  For instance, Sweden (among other countries) seems to have fairly extreme wealth inequality.

3. The sentence “Real wages are much higher in America than in Western Europe” does not come easily to his pen.  Nor does “The United States is a remarkably successful innovator, let’s see what we can learn from that.”  Or even “Raising wages is more important than merely limiting inequality.”  Those seems to be banished thoughts in the Piketty intellectual universe.

4. The sections on Soviet and socialist experience can only be called “delusional.”  In his account, if only a few political decisions had gone the other way, the USSR might have ended up on a path similar to that of Norway (p.603 and thereabouts).

You know, maybe you think that the inequalities of the current day are much worse than people had been expecting.  but that should not revise your view of socialism and the Soviet Union, two matters fairly well settled by historical research.

5. Give these lenses, it is impossible for Piketty to offer any commentary on recent events (about the last 400 pp. of the book) that is anything other than distorted and unreliable.  There is massive distrust of the wealthy in this book, and virtually no distrust of concentrated state power.

6. There is a considerable sum of useful and valuable material in this book, and I would not try to dissuade anyone inclined from reading it.  Nonetheless I suspect its main import is as another sign of the growing compartmentalization of academic discourse — good work intermingled with highly questionable partisan material — and how so many academics, if the mood affiliation tilts in the right direction, will tolerate or even encourage that.

You can pre-order the book here.

What I’ve been reading

Roderick Floud, An Economic History of the English Garden.  Every page of this book does indeed have economics.  It just does not have interesting economics.  Which may mean that gardens are not so interesting from an economic point of view.  Which in turn would make this a good book.  But not an interesting book.

Ajantha Subramanian, The Caste of Merit: Engineering Education in India.  A critique of casteism and growing inequality, this book also doubles as a fascinating history of IIT.  Best read in Straussian fashion as a sympathetic story of origins.

Dana Thomas, Fashionopolis: The Price of Fast Fashion & The Future of Clothes.  Some parts of this book have bad economics and extreme mood affiliation, but in general it has more actual information than other books on the same topic and at times the author makes decent external cost arguments against the current system of clothes production.  So a qualified recommendation, at least I am glad I read it, even though some parts are obviously too sloppy.

Razeen Sally, Return to Sri Lanka: Travels in a Paradoxical Island.  People do not think enough about Sri Lanka, including in the social sciences!  It is a richer and nicer country than what most people are expecting, and it is good for studying both conflict and ethnic tensions.  This memoir — information rich rather than just blather — is one good place to get you started.

David Goldblatt, The Age of Football: The Global Game in the Twenty-First Century.  Football meaning soccer of course, this book covers how soccer interacts with politics in many particular countries, including Africa, and just how much the game has grown in global markets.  Mostly informative, good if you wish to read a book about this topic (I don’t).

Conversations with Zizek.  Maybe the best introduction to why Žižek is a richer thinker than his critics allege?  The book serves up insights on a consistent basis, and there is a minimum of jargon.  Marcus Pound had a good blurb: “Audacious and vertiginous, this book is everything one expects from him, a heady mix of psychoanalysis, politics, theology, philosophy, and cultural studies that will leave the reader both exhausted and exhilarated.”

Superstar firms and market concentration

A new paper by Autor, Dorn, Katz, Patterson and Van Reenen (some real heavyweights) rebuts the notion that market concentration is rising because of inadequate antitrust concentration:

The fall of labor’s share of GDP in the United States and many other countries in recent decades is we ll documented but its causes remain uncertain. Existing empirical assessments typically rely on industry or macro data obscuring heterogeneity among firms. In this paper, we analyze micro panel data from the U.S. Economic Census since 1982 and document empirical patterns to assess a new interpretation of the fall in the labor share based on the rise of “superstar firms.” If globalization or technological changes push sales towards the most productive firms in each industry, product market concentration will rise as industries become increasingly dominated by superstar firms, which have high markups and a low labor share of value-added. We empirically assess seven predictions of this hypothesis: (i) industry sales will increasingly concentrate in a small number of firms; (ii) industries where concentration rises most will have the largest declines in the labor share; (iii) the fall in the labor share will be driven largely by reallocation rather than a fall in the unweighted mean labor share across all firms; (iv) the between-firm reallocation component of the fall in the labor share will be greatest in the sectors with the largest increases in market concentration; (v) the industries that are becoming more concentrated will exhibit faster growth of productivity; (vi) the aggregate markup will rise more than the typical firm’s markup; and (vii) these patterns should be observed not only in U.S. firms, but also internationally. We find support for all of these predictions.

Here is coverage from Peter Orszag.  As I’ve said before, people are opting for Philippon’s Great Reversal story because of ideology and convenience and mood affiliation, but it is not supported by the facts.