I have asked this question many times and it always elicits a chuckle. Clearly if you choose one over the other, you end up dead. And if your body decided that this ongoing struggle between inhaling and exhaling was a problem to solved, you would end up dead. Breathing is not a problem to be solved. It is a polarity to be managed.
Polarity management has a much wider application then biology. It applies to a wide range of features in human systems. Economist John McMillian (Stanford) wrote an insightful book called, “Reinventing the Bazaar: A Natural History of Markets.” McMillian makes the case that the never-ending struggle in political economy has been to find the right mix of centralization and decentralization. If power becomes too centralized, then it will become oppressive and destructive. Yet, without centralized power, local tyrants emerge, injustice proliferates, and warring factions square off, sending society into chaos. In this sense, political economy is a polarity to be managed, not a problem to be solved.
Writing in the Atlantic, Eric Liu makes an important observation (emphasis mine):
"We don’t need fewer arguments today; we need less stupid ones.
The arguments in American politics today are stupid in many ways: They’re stuck in a decaying two-party institutional framework; they fail to challenge foundational assumptions about capitalism or government; they center on symbolic proxy skirmishes instead of naming the underlying change; they focus excessively on style and surface.
Americans can do better. Remember: America doesn’t just have arguments; America is an argument—between Federalist and Anti-Federalist world views, strong national government and local control, liberty and equality, individual rights and collective responsibility, color-blindness and color-consciousness, Pluribus and Unum.
The point of civic life in this country is not to avoid such tensions. Nor is it for one side to achieve “final” victory. It is for us all to wrestle perpetually with these differences, to fashion hybrid solutions that work for the times until they don’t, and then to start again.
"America is an Argument." Bingo! I think you will find the same is true in all human structures, including church and family. Part of what facilitates better discussion and arguments is appreciating that we are often wrestling more with polarities and less with virtue and vice.
The Kruse Kronicle byline is, “Contemplating the intersection of work, the global economy, and Christian Mission.” While politics is not the primary focus of this blog, it is impossible to escape how this presidential election is reshaping Christian Mission for substantial segments of American Christianity. In short, we are asking how ought our discipleship shape our political participation?
Before you read further, you should know that I have opposed Donald Trump since he announced back his campaign in June of 2015. My take on policy and priorities leans center right, which should make me lean toward Republicans. While I have considerable policy disagreements with Trump, that it is not what drives my opposition. My conviction stems from being a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Two days ago on Facebook, I posted a link about Independent Conservative candidate Evan McMullin. He is launching a bid to regain control of the heart and soul of conservatism. I commented, “And the battle for the center-right begins.” A Trump-backing Facebook friend asked:
“Why would anyone vote for a Mormon (non-Christian) candidate [McMullin] while citing the immaturity of Trump's (maturing) Christian faith as a reason not to vote for him?”
I used the occasion of that question to unpack my views. Some friends have encouraged me to post this response in a more accessible forum. So here it is with some light editing and a couple of additional comments.
I think the question [quoted above] misunderstands the issue for Christian Never Trumpers. Having no standing to speak on behalf of them as a group, I’ll speak for myself.
My primary concern is not about who wins this election, what happens to the Supreme Court, and so on. My concern is the witness of the Church. We are called to be ambassadors for the coming reign of God, to exhibit love and compassion, to speak up about injustice. We are resident-aliens in this world, not full citizens. Highlighting the intensity of that commitment, Jesus says in Luke 14:26 that the Kingdom even takes precedence over family ties. Ties that compromise that witness are idolatry.
There are no perfect candidates unless Jesus is on the ballot. Every candidate will have shortcomings. We are not looking for perfection. A candidate need not be Christian. The question is about general moral character, not the candidate’s specific religious doctrinal beliefs. The Church stays independent, whoever is elected, lifting up that which is good and offering critique for that which is not, but first and foremost living as a community that exhibits the marks of the Kingdom.
As each of us votes, we must make a determination about which of the candidates, if any, offers sufficient merit to receive our vote. Some conservative voters see Clinton as unacceptable. Fine. Let’s take her off the table. This being the case, some feel they must vote for Trump. Fine. I think that is misguided, but let’s grant that.
The issue is not that someone might vote for Trump. The issue is the attempt by the Christian Right to characterize Trump as basically a good guy, a baby Christian, basically "one of us," who is just a little rough around the edges. Trump is not a little rough around the edges.
Have you read Art of the Deal? Have you watched his life unfold? At the core of Trump’s life is the very antithesis of the Sermon on the Mount. He brags that never needs to apologize or repent about anything. [His recent apology about leaked videotapes was noteworthy for its novelty but also for NOT being an apology to the people he had wronged. It was to the voters who have the power to withhold something he wants.] He has been the apostle for win at all costs. You don’t just defeat opponents. You destroy and humiliate anyone who gets in your way. He advocated seducing the wives of rivals to humiliate them and bragged about having done so himself. He made his fortune exploiting human frailty in the area of gambling. You are unflinchingly loyal to him or you are an absolute loser. I can go on. Everything about him exudes an unstable vindictive predatory character. His “unfortunate” statements are not the product of an unpolished public figure. They are the product of a calculating, manipulative, pathological personality.
Democracy runs on the basis that there are competing views in society. When someone wins an election, the loser concedes and the winner leaves the loser standing, the loser living to fight another day. It is the understanding that no victory or loss is ever final, that keeps society moving along, even with disagreement. Trump routinely demonstrates he cannot tolerate the presence of opposition, period! Not even from beauty queens. From the beginning of the campaign to present, it has all been about what HE is going to do. By sheer force of his personality and will, and without any clear understanding of the basics of governance and a demonstrated unwillingness to learn them, he is going to fix everything. This is World Wrestling Entertainment bravado, not leadership. This grandiosity, coupled with a vindictive predatory temperament, is the recipe for authoritarianism.
Too many Christian Right Trumpers are not simply voting for the lesser of two evils. They are serving as his apologists, legitimizing his profound evils. It is an act of hypocrisy, considering all the criticism leveled at the moral failings of candidates in the past. When it is their agenda that is at stake, all concern about character goes out the window. You think Trump is the better candidate? Fine. But do not insult us with minimizing who this man is.
[As one Facebook friend posted: "You cannot support Ahab because you think he is somehow better than Jezebel and call it righteous."--Dennis Bills]
Let’s assume that by not voting for Trump, a Clinton presidency leads to some very unfriendly policies toward Christian Right people. So be it! The Church’s mission is not to win elections but to give witness to the coming Kingdom. That witness can be given through martyrdom if need be. Christ does not need the help of hateful authoritarian demagogues to achieve his purposes.
I am not that familiar with McMullin. From what I hear to date, he seems to be a principled man with admirable ethical standards, wanting to build a more civil society with aspiration and persuasion. To the degree that turns out to be true, he is a welcomed refreshing voice. I don’t care what his specific doctrines are.
In the end, I am sure I was not persuasive. For many on the Christian Right, this election is visceral. Social psychologists write about “motivated perception,” where what we see gets shaped by what we feel is at stake. For so many, legitimate or not, Hillary Clinton is the embodiment of the “other side” in the culture wars of the past forty years. The idea of letting her win, much less vote for her, is nihilistic and apocalyptic. One is forced to choose between letting loose the apocalypse or voting for a candidate who is the antithesis to all you have previously advocated as morally necessary.
The motivation to legitimize and rationalize Trump is powerful. According to survey research comparing 2011 to 2016, White Evangelical Protestants went from being the religious segment least likely to believe that someone who commits immoral acts in private life can govern ethically (2011 = 30%) to the most likely (2016 = 71%). (Source) Jeff Jacoby compares statements by leaders before 2011 with statements after in his piece How the religious right embraced Trump and lost its moral authority. When holding a moral standard means substantial loss, they embraced moral relativity, the cardinal sin of “secular-progressives” they so despise. Again, my point is not that someone will vote for Trump. My concern is that those who decide they will vote for Trump should not minimize and trivialize who the man shows himself to be.
In closing, I will say that our present circumstances in the American Church are not purely the problem of the Christian Right. Across the political spectrum, much of American Church is not formed by the gospel of Jesus Christ. A great many progressive Christians have concluded that the answer to the Christian Right is the emergence of the Christian Left. They participate in the same hyperbolic “othering” that the Right has done and call it “prophetic” and “social justice advocacy.” And what we learn now is that when you have for years embraced characterizations of your opponents as wanting to kill women, equating them to holocaust deniers, and declared them to be functionally no different than the Taliban, you lose the words to name genuine authoritarianism when it appears. (See Crying Wolf, Then Confronting Trump) The answer is not a more progressive church. The answer is a loving community of resident-aliens, seeking the welfare of the city, seeking truth no matter the implications for our host culture’s political agendas. Right, left, or whatever, precious little of the American Church owns that vision.
Many Americans, especially progressives, are now “socialists.” The rise of Bernie Sanders has had much to do with it. Yet, when I hear them talk, I keep hearing Inigo Montoya, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
According to Marxian theory, Socialism is a transitional economic system between capitalism and communism. Capitalism (i.e., private property ownership and the distribution of goods and services through market exchange) will run its course and one day a classless society with no private property will evolve. The workers will hold things in common and goods will be distributed according to need.
Some Marxists believed they could accelerate this evolution through violent revolution and imposition of communist principles. We saw that tactic attempted several times in the last century. Others believed economic evolution should run its course. People could work for greater social justice within the system as they methodically brought every aspect of the economy under the control of the government, eventually ending private ownership of the means of production. From there, it would be just a few more steps to the communist utopia. This transitional system is socialism.
Socialists called themselves “social democrats,” or “democratic socialists,” advocating “social democracy.” The emphasis here is democracy. Since communism is the inevitable outcome, there is no need to short circuit the process through violent revolution. People will choose their way into communism.
During the last century, it certainly became clear that relying on markets and philanthropy alone was not an optimal strategy for a just and flourishing society. Government has assumed control of some functions to ensure the broader welfare of citizens in all of today’s capitalist societies. These functions have been “socialized.” But the broader context is still private property and market systems. “Socializing” selected functions is not a tactical progression toward communism. This is welfare capitalism. We were on our way to socialism.
However, a funny thing happened to socialism along the way through the last century. It was mugged by reality. It has become clear that socialism is fatally flawed. Market systems provide a real-time feedback loop of information, matching ever-changing demands with an ever-changing supply. Markets empower countless strangers to benefit each other through specialization and exchange. There is simply no way a centralized entity can manage the production of goods and services. Assuming those with the sufficient information could be trusted to have the wisdom and ethical courage to make optimal decisions, the endlessly churn of supply and demand makes sufficient information utterly impossible. (Other insurmountable barriers exist but that is for another day.) The “inevitable” road to communism was wrong.
Most political parties variously named “democratic socialist” or “social democrats,” have become advocates for expanding welfare capitalism. For precisely this reason, the word “socialist” has fallen out of favor in many regions. So in short, we have learned that neither pure libertarianism nor socialism is workable. We are all welfare-capitalist now: We rely primarily on private ownership and market exchange, and quibble about what societal functions might be better if socialized.
So let us look for a minute a Bernie Sanders, the “socialist” icon for hipster intellectuals. Sanders talks of making America more like Denmark – or the Nordic economic model. Are Nordic countries socialist? Finnish-American journalist, Anu Partanen, author of The Nordic Theory of Everything: In Search of a Better Life, recently noted:
The problem is the way Sanders has talked about it [Nordic economic model.] The way he’s embraced the term socialist has reinforced the American misunderstanding that universal social policies always require sacrifice for the good of others, and that such policies are anathema to the entrepreneurial, individualistic American spirit. It’s actually the other way around. For people to support a Nordic-style approach is not an act of altruism but of self-promotion. It’s also the future.
In an age when more and more people are working as entrepreneurs or on short-term projects, and when global competition is requiring all citizens to be better prepared to handle economic turbulence, every nation needs to ensure that its people have the education, health care, and other support structures they need to take risks, start businesses, and build a better future for themselves and for their country. It’s simply a matter of keeping up with the times.
In a recent address at Harvard University, Denmark’s prime minster, Lars Løkke Rasmussen, made this observation:
I know that some people in the US associate the Nordic model with some sort of socialism. Therefore, I would like to make one thing clear. Denmark is far from a socialist planned economy. Denmark is a market economy. … The Nordic model is an expanded welfare state which provides a high level of security to its citizens, but it is also a successful market economy with much freedom to pursue your dreams and live your life as you wish.
Are you getting that? A robust welfare system is a means to a robust market economy! And that raises another issue: markets.
Paraphrasing Partanen, progressive Americans see Nordic social policies as anathema to market capitalism. They argue that allowing corporations to rig the system in the favor of a few, allegedly an inherent feature of capitalism, is social injustice. It makes no sense. If corporations are rigging the system, then it is not truly a market! The socialist answer would be for the government to assume ownership of corporations. If you just want to end inordinate privilege for big-business, then what you are advocating is – wait for it – freer markets!
In reality, there is no such thing as "free markets." Market economies are based on the premise that absent fraud, misinformation, and externalities, people will make the best and most efficient decisions about what to consume and produce for their own needs, mediated through price information generated by supply and demand. Producers who produce well will be rewarded and those that do not will eventually fold. The reality is that there is always incomplete information and there are nearly always some externalities inherent in trade. Taxes and regulation are also necessary. But generally speaking, trade unencumbered by planners or by gamers of the system leads to higher living standards.
Big-business capitalists use political power to block competition and preserve economic power. They constrain markets. Writing 240 years ago, Adam Smith wrote, “People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.” Free markets are the answer to powerful economic players conspiring with government to choke off competition and preserve their privileged status through subsidies, tariffs, and onerous legislation.
Socializing some aspects of society is not antithetical to market economics. We cannot deliver some social goods through markets, or at least not deliver them well. But we must have a robust market economy to generate the tax revenue to make socialized services sustainable. Denmark is the top rated country in the world on business and trade. The other Nordic countries are right behind them. This is not the Sanders model.
Sanders wants to institute protectionist policies, raise taxes on corporations (USA is already on the high side), set a minimum wage 50% higher than other developed countries, and do a host of other trade unfriendly measures. Meanwhile, taxes for all but the wealthiest will stay low (taxes in Nordic countries are high for everyone.) He wants to expand the safety net golden egg while strangling off the goose that lays it. He thrives on populist anti-market and anti-business sentiment. Curiously, Clinton is probably closer to the Nordic model, embracing an expanded and smarter welfare model, while championing (at least in the past) trade and business. Yet she dismisses Denmark as contrary to this vision. Partanen speculates Clinton knows her plans are more genuinely like Denmark than are Sanders’ but she avoids association with the Nordic model because of public misconceptions. I think that is true.
So why are so many supposedly well-educated people now calling themselves socialists? One big reason is surely economic illiteracy. Going back to at least the 1930s, conservatives warned of “socialism” with the advent of Social Security. Same with Great Society programs in the 1960s - now also with ACA and talk of single-payer healthcare. To some degree, left-leaners just decided to own the moniker. Simultaneously, enough libertarian-leaning folks falsely used free markets to rationalize away ANY government involvement in anything; so many lefties just owned this misconception of “free market.” What they want is a more robust version of welfare capitalism and less big-business domination. Economic illiteracy is my generous reading of why people call themselves socialist. But I have a less generous reading as well.
Americans are not wrong to abhor the specters of socialism and big government. In fact, as a proud Finn, I often like to remind my American friends that my countrymen in Finland fought two brutal wars against the Soviet Union to preserve Finland’s freedom and independence against socialism. No one wants to live in a society that doesn’t support individual liberty, entrepreneurship, and open markets. But the truth is that free-market capitalism and universal social policies go well together—this isn’t about big government, it’s about smart government. …
Like the Finns, countless Americans fought to keep America free from the totalitarian ideologies that emerged in the last century. They largely won. They considered it a legacy to pass to future generations of America and to the world. Rightfully so. So why would people seeking a more robust welfare state and less big-business domination call themselves socialists?
Inigo Montoya is wrong with regard to many of the new “socialists.” They know exactly what the word means! They know the emotion it stirs. The misuse is intentional. Calling yourself “socialist” is the left’s version of Trumpist politics: Stir up tribal rivalry with incendiary language. Raise a verbal middle finger to your opponents. When they call you on it, roll your eyes with incredulity that people would accuse you of advocating totalitarianism. “After all, we just want to improve the safety net end reign in corporate greed like any good social democrat.” So to my “socialist” friends who cannot fathom the origins of anger in Trump voters, part of the answer is staring at you in the mirror. Sow the wind and reap the whirlwind.
If your sole concern is fomenting tribal political battles, then the above is mostly irrelevant to you. Calling yourself a socialist is effective for your purposes. If you care about clarifying the truth in pursuit of a greater good for humanity, then you will use language that is faithful to what is being described. Whether through illiteracy or insolence, “socialism” fails that standard. You really need to stop using that word.
Virginia Postrel has an interesting article at Bloomberg "Progressive and Racist. Woodrow Wilson Wasn't Alone," a book review Thomas Lenoard's Illiberal Reformers: Race, Eugenics and American Economics in the Progressive Era. Here are a few key quotes:
The progressives believed, first and foremost, in the importance of science and scientific experts in guiding the economy, government, and society. Against the selfishness, disorder, corruption, ignorance, conflict and wastefulness of free markets or mass democracy, they advanced the ideal of disinterested, public-spirited social control by well-educated elites. The progressives were technocrats who, Leonard observes, “agreed that expert public administrators do not merely serve the common good, they also identify the common good.” Schools of public administration, including the one that since 1948 has borne Woodrow Wilson’s name, still enshrine that conviction.
Later, she writes:
Advocates similarly didn’t deny that imposing a minimum wage might throw some people out of work. That wasn’t a bug; it was a feature -- a way to deter undesirable workers and keep them out of the marketplace and ideally out of the country. Progressives feared that, faced with competition from blacks, Jews, Chinese, or other immigrants, native-stock workingmen would try to keep up living standards by having fewer kids and sending their wives to work. Voilà: “race suicide.” Better to let a minimum wage identify inferior workers, who might be shunted into institutions and sterilized, thereby improving the breed in future generations. ...
... Clark’s theory is now a foundation of mainstream labor economics. In his day, however, it was highly unpopular. “A key element of resistance,” writes Leonard, “was that many progressives were reluctant to treat wages as a price,” rather than a right of citizenship and social standing. Informed by their beliefs in scientific racism, most progressives preferred wages to favor some groups over others: men over women, whites over blacks, and most prominently, native stock over immigrants.
Although they generally assumed black inferiority, progressives outside the South didn’t worry much about the “Negro question.” They were instead obsessed with the racial, economic, and social threats posed by immigrants. MIT president Francis Amasa Walker called for “protecting the American rate of wages, the American standard of living, and the quality of American citizenship from degradation through the tumultuous access of vast throngs of ignorant and brutalized peasantry from the countries of eastern and southern Europe," whom he described in Darwinian language as “representing the worst failures in the struggle for existence.”
So restricting immigration was as central to the progressive agenda as regulating railroads. Indeed, in his five-volume History of the American People, Wilson lumped together in one long paragraph the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act and the 1887 Interstate Commerce Act as “the first fruits of radical economic changes and the rapid developments of trade, industry, and transportation” -- equal harbingers of the modern administrative state. With a literacy test and ban on most other Asian immigrants enacted in 1917 and national quotas established in 1924, the progressives bequeathed to America the concept of illegal immigration.
The first paragraph is preface for what follows. It relates why I eschew the label "progressive" despite having some sympathies for some aspects of what today's progressives espouse. In my estimation, "progressivism," then and now, contains substantial hubris - believing that through dispassionate logic, science, and a superior moral locus, we are justified in moving heaven and earth to bring about a brave new world. Institutions and practices that have emerged through time as practical ways of making the world work be damned! I believe most change should be modest reform, not revolution. It is in this sense that I would claim the term conservative. We want to conserve the good as we seek improvement. We aren't that smart and we aren't that noble, when it comes to redesigning the world.
The minimum wage piece is particularly interesting. While impacts of minimum wage increases art notoriously complex and difficult to summarize with precision, most economists agree that substantial increases in the minimum wage dampen job growth overtime. There are studies that show, just as the early progressives logically surmised, that increased minimum wages have a negative impact on the employment of minorities, particularly young black men.
I am definitely going to read this book!
Wall Street Journal: Vaccines and Politicized Science
The people doing basic science should learn a well-proven truth about basic politics: Any cause taken up by politicians today by definition will be doubted or opposed by nearly half the population. When an Al Gore, John Kerry or Europe’s Green parties become spokesmen for your ideas, and are willing to accuse fellow scientists of bad faith or willful ignorance, then science has made a Faustian bargain. The price paid, inevitably, will be the institutional credibility of all scientists.
Bingo! Two groups have been central to the climate debate. There are scientists who study climate and then there is portion of society who view the modern economic order primarily as an exercise in exploitation and destruction. They are not one in the same group but there is considerable overlap.
Scientific evidence that our system is destroying the planet is an irresistible tool to this political community to advance their political narrative of the future. Science has seemed willing to partner with those who embrace this narrative as a way to address the real challenge of climate change, I suspect not in small part because many scientists already share a similar political narrative. Yet the challenge of climate change does not dictate one particular narrative. Consequently, people who do not share the political narrative do not see climate science as valid science with a problematic superimposed narrative. They come to see climate science as junk science manufactured by people with the political narrative.
Science is going to play a critical role with a host challenges in the future. We have to find a way to tap down the political hijacking.
Arnold Kling recently posted Pete Boettke on Ideology and Economics. The economics in the article is interesting but I particularly liked this sentence:
"Keep in mind, however, the Law of Asymmetric Insight: when two people disagree, each one tends to think that he understands his opponent better than the opponent understands himself."
I suspect a measure of this is unavoidable. If I do not think my view has greater merit, and therefore other views are flawed, why would I hold my view? The trick in addressing a disagreement is dealing respectfully with others, valuing them, and maybe asking more questions while issuing fewer pontifications. I'm trying to be better a this. Sometimes I learn the Asymmetry of insight is not always in my favor.
The challenge is to avoid the Law of Assymetric Insight, which is the Law of Asymmetric Insight with an addendum: when two people disagree, each one tends to think that he understands his opponent better than the opponent understands himself, and he is therefore justified in behaving like an ass.
In short, have convictions but don't be an ass.
We live in an increasingly polarized society. How do we reverse this trend? My reflection on this topic keeps taking me back to the basic question raised in the sociology of knowledge: How do we know what we think we know? During college in the late 1970s, I read Peter Berger and Thomas Luckman’s classic The Social Construction of Reality. Their description of how we construct and reinforce reality with social interaction is one of the most important books I have ever read. It gave me a lifelong interest in the field.
If studying this field has taught me anything, coherence of ideas is not enough. I value coherence but we must be test ideas in the real world. And yet, the way I go about testing ideas will be influenced by the socially constructed reality in which I live. There is no complete escape from our psychosocial context, but we can stretch our understanding.
For these reasons, I relish the opportunity to discuss topics with people of differing perspectives. Unfortunately, many of the topics that most interest me are bristling with political implications. Civil conversation is difficult. Observations that challenge conventional understanding typically provoke derisive banter instead of substantive dialog. Dispassionate presentation of factual information with measured commentary does the same thing. No matter what I try, it is hard to keep dialog dispassionately focused on the substance. Why?
I think economist Timothy Taylor has some great insight. In his post Political Polarization and Confirmation Bias he writes:
Part of the reason American voters have become more polarized in recent decades is that both sides feel better-informed.
The share of Democrats who had “unfavorable” attitudes about the Republican Party rose from 57 percent in 1994 to 79 percent in 2014, according to a Pew Research Center survey in June called “Political Polarization in the American Public.”
Similarly, the percentage of Republicans who had unfavorable feelings about the Democratic Party climbed from 68 percent to 82 percent.
When you “feel” better informed, you tend to be more confident about your views and more dismissive of your opponent’s views. But are we truly better informed?
A common response to this increasing polarization is to call for providing more unbiased facts. But in a phenomenon that psychologists and economists call “confirmation bias,” people tend to interpret additional information as additional support for their pre-existing ideas.
One classic study of confirmation bias was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 1979 by three Stanford psychologists, Charles G. Lord, Lee Ross and Mark R. Lepper. In that experiment, 151 college undergraduates were surveyed about their beliefs on capital punishment. Everyone was then exposed to two studies, one favoring and one opposing the death penalty. They were also provided details of how these studies were done, along with critiques and rebuttals for each study.
The result of receiving balanced pro-and-con information was not greater intellectual humility — that is, a deeper perception that your own preferred position might have some weaknesses and the other side might have some strengths. Instead, the result was a greater polarization of beliefs. Student subjects on both sides — who had received the same packet of balanced information! — all tended to believe that the information confirmed their previous position.
A number of studies have documented the reality of confirmation bias since then. In an especially clever 2013 study, Dan M. Kahan (Yale University), Ellen Peters (Ohio State), Erica Cantrell Dawson (Cornell) and Paul Slovic (Oregon) showed that people’s ability to interpret numbers declines when a political context is added.
In this second study, the exact same numbers were used to make the case for the efficacy of a skin cream and for the efficacy of gun control. In the former case, the respondents accurately interpreted the numbers but in the latter case they could not, claiming the numbers supported pre-existing understanding when clearly they did not.
Now stop!!! What are you thinking about this very second? If you are like most of me, you are likely thinking about personal experiences where you witnessed this in others. If you are a liberal, you are likely thinking of those Fox News watching Neanderthals denying climate change. Or if you are conservative, those bleeding-heart mush-heads who think the government can provide quality healthcare. If so, then you are missing the point! The issue is how you and I engage in confirmation bias? We all do it. Yet by definition, it is hard to detect because it happens at a subconscious level.
… But what about you? One obvious test is how much your beliefs change depending on the party of a president.
For example, have your opinions on the economic dangers of large budget deficits varied, coincidentally, with whether the deficits in question occurred under President Bush (or Reagan) or under President Obama?
Is your level of outrage about presidents who push the edge of their constitutional powers aimed mostly at presidents of “the other” party? What about your level of discontent over government surveillance of phones and e-mails? Do your feelings about military actions in the Middle East vary by the party of the commander in chief?
He lists other examples. Then this:
Of course, for all of these issues and many others, there are important distinctions that can be drawn between similar policies at different times and places. But if your personal political compass somehow always rotates to point to how your pre-existing beliefs are already correct, then you might want to remember how confirmation bias tends to shade everyone’s thinking.
When it comes to political beliefs, most people live in a cocoon of semi-manufactured outrage and self-congratulatory confirmation bias. The Pew surveys offer evidence on the political segregation in neighborhoods, places of worship, sources of news — and even in who we marry.
I would add two more observations. First, we do not hold our political views in a vacuum. We tend to associate with people similar to us and to build community on shared values. Our views become part of an integrated web of factors that give us identity, a sense of community, and give coherence to the world around us. The more deeply embedded we are in a community the more deeply reinforced is the validity of our positions. Because of this, changing our position on an issue is rarely just an intellectual exercise.
A change in a position can pose a significant existential threat with substantial consequences to our relationships and sense of well-being. Keep in mind that Americans today say they are less likely to marry someone of a differing political party than they are of a different religion. What would it mean to change your political views in such a marriage? Furthermore, it is one thing to learn that I have been using the wrong skin cream. It is another to find out that as a the compassionate, justice-embracing, person I believe myself to be, that the fair-trade coffee I have been enthusiastically promoting is little more than a marketing ploy or that an abstinence program I have championed has no impact on teen pregnancy. What does that do to my personal identity? Change of views has deeply personal and emotional consequences.
Second, I came across this article as I was preparing this post, Nonpolitical Images Evoke Neural Predictors of Political Ideology. The authors write:
Accumulating evidence suggests that cognition and emotion are deeply intertwined, and a view of segregating cognition and emotion is becoming obsolete. People tend to think that their political views are purely cognitive (i.e., rational). However, our results further support the notion that emotional processes are tightly coupled to complex and high-dimensional human belief systems, and such emotional processes might play a much larger role than we currently believe, possibly outside our awareness of its influence.
This is critical. When I initiate discussions about economics or demography, I very often get an emotional response. Why? Why do I respond like this? Sometimes it is because I do not have the time or the expertise to grasp what was said. I turn to heuristics as a shortcut, making intuitive assessments about what someone said based on experience in other contexts.
At an almost unconscious level, I reason from experience that someone who talks about topic X and uses certain phrases or reasoning patterns, also holds a collection of other viewpoints. I then surmise what a person is really getting at. I put that assessment through an emotional filter based on how I feel about this type of person. If my feelings are positive, then I congratulate her on a well-reasoned argument. If my feelings are negative, then I congratulate myself for being sensible and I go to work postulating how she became so silly or malicious. In either case, actual reasoning about the subject matter is minimal. The truth is that emotion figures into all our assessments and it is probably best to be a little more humble about our own reasoning abilities and less hard on emotional responses from others.
Taylor closes his piece with this:
Being opposed to political polarization doesn’t mean backing off from your beliefs. But it does mean holding those beliefs with a dose of humility. If you can’t acknowledge that there is a sensible challenge to a large number (or most?) of your political views, even though you ultimately do not agree with that challenge, you are ill-informed.
So Taylor has offered some thoughts about polarization and confirmation bias. I have added a couple of additional wrinkles. I appreciate Taylor’s call to focus first on the log in my own eye. I need to be more self-aware of my own proclivities and I could often have more humility. What else? How can we reduce polarization and confirmation bias? What do you think?
The Atlantic just ran an article called Have You Heard? Gossip Is Actually Good and Useful. The teaser was, "Talking behind other people's backs may not always be nice, but sometimes it can help promote cooperation and self-improvement." It is a very interesting read. You could discuss it from a number of different angles. This paragraph really caught my attention:
As the study explains, “by hearing about the misadventures of others, we may not have to endure costs to ourselves,” by making the same mistake. And because negative stories tend to stick better in the mind than positive stories, it makes sense that gossip about people who violated norms would be more instructive than gossip about people who are really great at norms. (What’s more, one study found that sharing a negative opinion of a person with someone is better for bonding with them than sharing a positive opinion.)
It strikes me that a considerable portion of political discourse plays a similar role. A small group of people are having a conversation when someone offhandedly makes a disparaging remark about a politician, a political party, or a public policy. Joe says, "Did you see the news today that this is the 17th straight year where global temps have not increased? So much for global warming." (Or "Did you see the news about the ice caps becoming 10% smaller over the last year? How does anyone deny global warming?") Though it may appear on the surface that the remark is inviting discussion, most often it is not. It is being deployed as means of reinforcing social cohesion. And woe to you if you are not discerning enough to know the difference.
The "appropriate" response is to affirm what has been said with your own comments. As members of the group hear each other express affirming remarks, group solidarity is built. And as the article suggests, affirming negative opinions seems more potent. Knowing that we all have a common view on this one topic builds a basis for cohesion as we move on to more interaction. It isn't just a philosophical excercise to challenge the remark, it is a threat to group solidarity.
That leaves a dissenter in a difficult place, espeically if he has been public at all with a differing view. If you join in with the affirming chorus, then you may soon be outed as a hypocrite. If you challenge the remark, then you will be seen as a troublemaker. If you say nothing, then your views may later be discovered and you will be percieved as being decietful. It is a bit of a minefield.
Another layer to this is that sometimes the person inititating the remark knows that a member(s) of the group has differing views. By making the disparaging remark, she signals others to rally to her flag with affirming remarks, putting the dissenter in an awkward or defensive posture. It is an attempt to dominate and enforce solidarity.
The idea that talking about others behind their backs and sharing a common disapproval of others generates social cohesion poses some challenging questions for discipleship. I once read that not every movement needs a god but every movement needs a Satan. I doubt it is possible to fully escape this dynamic. I have no easy answers. But I suspect if our aim is to love our neighbor as ourself, then maybe the first place to begin is by deeply listening to our casual conversations, conciously evaluating what we intend to accomplish with the views we express in any given context.
... Yet despite these unfortunate attempts at redefinition, progressive Catholics who value Catholic social teaching should reexamine subsidiarity, as it is a principle that they can and should embrace.
Subsidiarity is an essential component of Church teaching. The catechism states that under subsidiarity, “a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to coordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good.” In terms of government action, “The principle of subsidiarity holds that the functions of government should be performed at the lowest level possible, as long as they can be performed adequately. When the needs in question cannot adequately be met at the lower level, then it is not only necessary, but imperative that higher levels of government intervene.”
Subsidiarity helps us to translate our sense of solidarity into social justice. While it is solidarity that gives us the desire to achieve the common good and protect the most vulnerable members of our communities, the principle of subsidiarity is particularly useful in helping us to achieve this preeminent goal. It protects us from large corporations and excessive government invading the most intimate spheres of our lives and inhibiting our freedom to reach our full potential as persons.
Subsidiarity also protects civil society, the foundation of a strong democratic culture. It recognizes the inevitable need for communities between the person and the state, the inherent duties that exist within these communities, and the threat to these posed by tyrannical regimes, kleptocracies, and other forms of domination by powerful interests. ...
I don't endorse everything he has to say in this post but I think his opposition to collapsing "subsidiarity" into a synonym for "states rights" is correct. There is inherent tension between needing vibrant local community and needing larger entities that bring order, address the destructiveness that can emerge in local community, and sometimes do things that simply could not be done without bigness. There is considerable room for debate about how this all should work but ideology that knee-jerk defaults to government intervention to solve each problem, or sees every government involvement as sinister, is destructive.
The Atlantic: How to Talk About Climate Change So People Will Listen
Environmentalists warn us that apocalypse awaits. Economists tell us that minimal fixes will get us through. Here's how we can move beyond the impasse.
This is an exceptionally good piece by Charles Mann on how we think and talk about climate change. It is a long article. Here are a few excerpts.
"... On the one hand, the transformation of the Antarctic seems like an unfathomable disaster. On the other hand, the disaster will never affect me or anyone I know; nor, very probably, will it trouble my grandchildren. How much consideration do I owe the people it will affect, my 40-times-great-grandchildren, who, many climate researchers believe, will still be confronted by rising temperatures and seas? Americans don’t even save for their own retirement! How can we worry about such distant, hypothetical beings?
Worse, confronting climate change requires swearing off something that has been an extraordinary boon to humankind: cheap energy from fossil fuels. ..."
"... Rhetorical overreach, moral miscalculation, shouting at cross-purposes: this toxic blend is particularly evident when activists, who want to scare Americans into taking action, come up against economists, with their cool calculations of acceptable costs. Eco-advocates insist that only the radical transformation of society—the old order demolished, foundation to roof—can fend off the worst consequences of climate change. Economists argue for adapting to the most-likely consequences; cheerleaders for industrial capitalism, they propose quite different, much milder policies, and are ready to let nature take a bigger hit in the short and long terms alike. Both envelop themselves in the mantle of Science, emitting a fug of charts and graphs. (Actually, every side in the debate, including the minority who deny that humans can affect the climate at all, claims the backing of Science.) Bewildered and battered by the back-and-forth, the citizenry sits, for the most part, on its hands. For all the hot air expended on the subject, we still don’t know how to talk about climate change.
As an issue, climate change was unlucky: when nonspecialists first became aware of it, in the 1990s, environmental attitudes had already become tribal political markers. ..."
He does a great job of recounting the history of the politics that has led us to where we are today.
"As an issue, climate change is perfect for symbolic battle, because it is as yet mostly invisible. ..."
Yes! And my conviction is that most conversations I encounter are far more about symbolic identification with a particular reference group, an expression of personal identity, and a means for ideological warfare, than a genuine appreciation for the nuances and risks of the human impact on climate.
In concrete terms, Americans encounter climate change mainly in the form of three graphs, staples of environmental articles. The first shows that atmospheric carbon dioxide has been steadily increasing. Almost nobody disputes this. The second graph shows rising global temperatures. This measurement is trickier: ... The third graph typically shows the consequences such models predict, ranging from worrisome (mainly) to catastrophic (possibly). ...
... The only solution to our ecological woes, McKibben argues, is to live simpler, more local, less resource-intensive existences—something he believes is already occurring. ...
... At base, he says, ecologism seeks not to save nature but to purify humankind through self-flagellating asceticism.
To Bruckner, ecologism is both ethnocentric and counterproductive. Ethnocentric because eco-denunciations of capitalism simply give new, green garb to the long-standing Euro-American fear of losing dominance over the developing world (whose recent growth derives, irksomely, from fossil fuels). Counterproductive because ecologism induces indifference, or even hostility to environmental issues. In the quest to force humanity into a puritanical straitjacket of rural simplicity, ecologism employs what should be neutral, fact-based descriptions of a real-world problem (too much carbon dioxide raises temperatures) as bludgeons to compel people to accept modes of existence they would otherwise reject. Intuiting moral blackmail underlying the apparently objective charts and graphs, Bruckner argues, people react with suspicion, skepticism, and sighing apathy—the opposite of the reaction McKibbenites hope to evoke. ...
Does climate change, as Nordhaus claims, truly slip into the silk glove of standard economic thought? The dispute is at the center of Jamieson’s Reason in a Dark Time. Parsing logic with the care of a raccoon washing a shiny stone, Jamieson maintains that economists’ discussions of climate change are almost as problematic as those of environmentalists and politicians, though for different reasons. ...
... If the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere rises only slightly above its current 400 parts per million, most climatologists believe, there is (roughly) a 90 percent chance that global temperatures will eventually rise between 3 and 8 degrees Fahrenheit, with the most likely jump being between 4 and 5 degrees. Nordhaus and most other economists conclude that humankind can slowly constrain this relatively modest rise in carbon without taking extraordinary, society-transforming measures, though neither decreasing the use of fossil fuels nor offsetting their emissions will be cheap or easy. But the same estimates show (again in rough terms) a 5 percent chance that letting carbon dioxide rise much above its current level would set off a domino-style reaction leading to global devastation. (No one pays much attention to the remaining 5 percent chance that the carbon rise would have very little effect on temperature.)
In our daily lives, we typically focus on the most likely result: I decide whether to jaywalk without considering the chance that I will trip in the street and get run over. But sometimes we focus on the extreme: I lock up my gun and hide the bullets in a separate place to minimize the chance that my kids will find and play with them. For climate change, should we focus on adapting to the most probable outcome or averting the most dangerous one? Cost-benefit analyses typically ignore the most-radical outcomes: they assume that society has agreed to accept the small but real risk of catastrophe—something environmentalists, to take one particularly vehement section of society, have by no means done.
On top of this, Jamieson argues, there is a second problem in the models economists use to discus climate change. Because the payoff from carbon-dioxide reduction will occur many decades from now, Nordhausian analysis suggests that we should do the bare minimum today, even if that means saddling our descendants with a warmer world. Doing the minimum is expensive enough already, economists say. Because people tomorrow will be richer than we are, as we are richer than our grandparents were, they will be better able to pay to clean up our emissions. Unfortunately, this is an ethically problematic stance. How can we weigh the interests of someone born in 2050 against those of someone born in 1950? In this kind of trade-off between generations, Jamieson argues, “there is no plausible value” for how much we owe the future.
Given their moral problems, he concludes, economic models are much less useful as guides than their proponents believe. For all their ostensible practicality—for all their attempts to skirt the paralysis-inducing specter of the apocalypse—economists, too, don’t have a good way to talk about climate change. ...
... let’s assume that rising carbon-dioxide levels will become a problem of some magnitude at some time and that we will want to do something practical about it. Is there something we should do, no matter what technical arcanae underlie the cost-benefit analyses, no matter when we guess the bad effects from climate change will kick in, no matter how we value future generations, no matter what we think of global capitalism? Indeed, is there some course of action that makes sense even if we think that climate change isn’t much of a problem at all? ...
Read the article to see how he answers the question. I pretty much agree. But I particularly like how he has framed our problem with the problem of climate change.
I've been saying this for years but I still think the best response is one of risk management. Risk involves factoring in both the likelihood something will happen and the significance of the thing happening if it does. Apocalyptic ecologism or dismissive economism gets us nowhere.
Alan Noble as a very good piece in the Atlantic: Is Evangelical Morality Still Acceptable in America? He doesn't define exactly what he means by "Evangelical Morality" but clearly he is talking about people who hold more traditionalist views on a set of moral issues. Here are some excerpts:
"... Behind all of these charges is the suspicion that evangelicals are simply refusing to accept contemporary American mores; they are privileging their faith over the moral spirit of the age. But for many evangelicals, these beliefs are not actually a sign of retreat from public life. Instead, there is a fear that in an increasingly secularized society, there will be less tolerance for people who wish to act upon their deeply held religious beliefs, except in narrowly defined, privatized spaces. This is a fundamentally American concern: Will I have the right to serve God as I believe I am obligated to? ..."
"... To a large extent, this tension has been caused by a shift in what we think of as the domain of morality. The vocabulary we use to describe same-sex marriage and contraceptives has changed from the language of morality to the language of rights. ..."
"... Often, the Christian defense of what they believe is their religious liberty is framed as fundamental hatefulness, homophobia, and misogyny, rather than disagreement grounded in morality. Much to the shame of the faith, a few who claim to be Christian really are motivated by hate. Those who disagree with them see little point in engaging with them on these issues, which is understandable, but it’s unfair and counterproductive to extend that attitude to all evangelical Christians. If the evangelical worldview is deemed invalid in the public sphere, then the public sphere loses the value of being public. American discourse will be marked by paranoid conformity, rather than principled and earnest disagreement. And our ability to prophetically speak to one another and to our nation’s troubles will be restrained.
The right framework here is one of pluralism: the ability of many different kinds of people to live out their faith in public with and among those who deeply disagree with them. This is no easy challenge; it's painful and ugly and hard. But the alternative to is a thin, univocal culture, one in which the only disagreements we have are trivial. And that would be a shame."
I don't share many of the values to which Evangelicals subscribe but that is just the point. The issue is not how should I deal with people who have views with which I disagree. The measure is how would I want to be dealt with if I were the one with an unpopular view.
The American Interest: Progressive Pragmatism
The Obama Administration represents the dawn of a new and superior conception of American foreign policy. ...
... Over the past two decades, policy has oscillated between liberal internationalism and neoconservatism. Liberal internationalism dominated during the Clinton years, with UN- or NATO-backed humanitarian interventions in Haiti, Somalia, Bosnia and Kosovo. Neoconservatism defined the George W. Bush Administration’s approach to post-9/11 wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Both approaches took an aggressive interest in military expeditions abroad, and, despite their differing conceptions of the national interest, both struggled to achieve positive post-combat political outcomes from those expeditions. ...
... Obama’s foreign policy has been widely attacked in ways that range from unprincipled to defeatist to incoherent to downright incompetent. The critics protest too much. ...
... Progressive pragmatism is based on two central principles. The progressive principle is a belief in bottom-up democracy, in the self-determination of a people. Neoconservatives and liberal internationalists are both willing to forcefully push political and economic development from outside a country’s borders. During the 1990s and 2000s, each camp supported military interventions abroad, at least ostensibly or in part to promote democracy and human rights. During the 1990s, each group also supported the Washington Consensus’s one-size-fits-all approach to economic development.
Progressive pragmatists believe that communities need to take charge of their own destinies. When it comes to intervention or overthrowing governments, progressive pragmatists will often balk; self-determination calls for revolts to come from below. In a 1980 essay, “The Moral Standing of States”, Michael Walzer explained the relationship between intervention and respect for the self-determination of a political community. If a government ceases to meet the people’s political demands, the people are free to rebel, or not to rebel. In some cases, the people may be loyal to leaders, think success is unlikely, or simply be accustomed to an autocratic style of rule. But they retain the choice to rebel, no matter how draconian their overlords may be. When a foreign state intervenes, it violates the people’s ability to organize its own historical path and to develop its own cultural destiny. Similarly, progressive pragmatists believe that the constitutional design or economic policies of foreign countries need not look exactly like those of the West in order to produce effective and legitimate institutions. People should choose how to govern themselves. ...
... The second foundational principle, the pragmaticprinciple, is a belief in real-world limitations, in the need to assess carefully the costs, benefits, and unintended consequences of actions. For founding progressives William James, and John Dewey, pragmatism didn’t just mean “what works” in a technocratic sense. It meant learning from experience within the context of a person’s (or community’s) particular experiences, culture, and beliefs. We each have opinions and biases that are frequently challenged by new facts or that are unable to explain new situations. Over time, we learn from these new experiences and change our views. Knowledge is therefore always partial, fallible, and contingent. It is tested and reshaped over time. As a consequence, genuine pragmatists are humble: They cannot discern perfect truths or certain futures, and they know it. ...
... The pragmatic principle is best captured by the writings of Reinhold Niebuhr, though Niebuhr himself was not exactly a “pragmatist” or even a “progressive.” Niebuhr, whom President Obama has called one of his favorite philosophers, placed humility at the center of his approach to foreign policy. He believed that history is defined by contingency and irony, not by utopian triumph or purely rational actions. The central guide to policy, therefore, is not dogma or ideology, but experience. American idealism, he argued, needs to confront “the limits of all human striving, the fragmentariness of all human wisdom, the precariousness of all historic confrontations of power”, and embrace the “slow and sometimes contradictory processes of history.” ...
... Progressive pragmatists will take action when necessary to further American interests. But when it comes to promoting American values, they take an indirect approach. Instead of making the world safe for democracy, they seek very patiently to make the world ready for democracy. They focus not on immediate regime change and democracy promotion, but on creating conditions that enable states to become more democratic and more responsible in their own time and in their own ways. Progressive pragmatism requires restraint when it comes to direct intervention, but assertive action when it comes to long-term cultural change. With reforms to international institutions, open access to information, fostering education abroad, cultural exchanges, and other such programs to shape culture and values, the United States can empower people around the world to embrace one of the most important progressive values: self-government.
An excellent essay. I resonate strongly with progressive pragmatism as described here, if not necessarily with every particular action of the Obama administration. I think Obama gets it mostly right.
Nick Cohen has a piece in the Guardian The climate change deniers have won. He is mourning the fact the "climate deniers" seem to be winning the day and exlpores why that might be. He writes:
... Clive Hamilton, the Australian author of Requiem for a Species, made the essential point a few years ago that climate change denial was no longer just a corporate lobbying campaign. The opponents of science would say what they said unbribed. The movement was in the grip of "cognitive dissonance", a condition first defined by Leon Festinger and his colleagues in the 1950s . They examined a cult that had attached itself to a Chicago housewife called Dorothy Martin. She convinced her followers to resign from their jobs and sell their possessions because a great flood was to engulf the earth on 21 December 1954. They would be the only survivors. Aliens in a flying saucer would swoop down and save the chosen few.
When 21 December came and went, and the Earth carried on as before, the group did not despair. Martin announced that the aliens had sent her a message saying that they had decided at the last minute not to flood the planet after all. Her followers believed her. They had given up so much for their faith that they would believe anything rather than admit their sacrifices had been pointless.
Climate change deniers are as committed. Their denial fits perfectly with their support for free market economics, opposition to state intervention and hatred of all those latte-slurping, quinoa-munching liberals, with their arrogant manners and dainty hybrid cars, who presume to tell honest men and women how to live. If they admitted they were wrong on climate change, they might have to admit that they were wrong on everything else and their whole political identity would unravel. ...
Let me say at the start that I think there is considerable truth in what he says. A great many of those who reject climate change alarm do not do so because they have a detailed knowledge of science. It is because it poses a significant threat to their view of the world.
Now let me add that is also true that a great many of those who embrace climate alarm do so not because they have a detailed knowledge of science. They do so because it gives them cognitive consonance. It reinforces their view of the world.
The marriage of climate alarm to anti-market, anti-growth, pro-state ideology is powerfully real but it is not a conscious marriage. It is intuitive. It creates cognitive harmony. To campaign for one is to campaign for the other.
If the real issue is solving the climate problem, then the messaging must be realistic. Take anti-growth. The global median annual income is about $1,000 per person. If there is to be no growth, then we have one of two options. First, freeze the world as it is and billions of people continue to live indefinitely at just above subsistence levels. Second, we install a global government to equalize income across the world meaning that the average American or European family (median income approx $50,000) will see a 98% drop to $1,000 a year. (And of course the very notion that income exists independent of the economic arrangements generating the income, which would have to be disassembled to achieve this goal, is absurd, but you get my point.) The first is immoral and the second beyond unrealistic. Therefore, the economy must grow and any realistic attempt to meet a climate change challenge will incorporate this. Period! End of discussion.
Innovation, adaptation, and substitution, and the free economies these activities need in order to thrive, are critical to addressing challenges, but they are anathema to so many climate advocates that embracing them creates cognitive dissonance. There are studies that suggest that when climate change is framed a little differently ... for instance, as a threat to future prosperity and freedom ... it gets a broader hearing among more conservative populations. Take the same-sex marriage movement. Regardless of what you think of its merits, a primary reason the movement has been successful is because it was able to tap into widely shared values of freedom of choice, tolerance, and equality. So it could just as easily be argued that it is the cognitive consonance of advocates that is blocking realistic meaningful responses to climate change.
Almost five years ago I did a series of posts on Bill Bishop's book The Big Sort. (Series here) Bishop explains that for at least thirty years we have been sorting ourselves into enclaves of polarized groups, even physically locating ourselves with others who think and live like us. But the big question is why?
Avi Tuschman has a piece in The Atlantic that has some interesting ideas, Why Americans Are So Polarized: Education and Evolution. The lead reads: "Improvements in learning—which correlates with stronger partisanship—and the tendency to choose likeminded mates may be helping to create divided politics."
"... The dynamics that fuel the Big Sort accelerated in the second half of the 20th century, coinciding with a massive increase in education. Between 1960 and 2008, for instance, the proportion of women with bachelor’s degrees nearly quintupled. The dramatic rise in educational attainment has a couple of unexpected side effects. For one, research shows that higher education has a polarizing effect on people: Highly educated liberals become more liberal, while highly educated conservatives grow more conservative. Second, people with college degrees enjoy greater freedoms, including social and geographic mobility. During the 1980s and 1990s, 45 percent of college-educated Americans moved to a new state within five years of graduation, compared with only 19 percent of their counterparts who had only a high-school diploma.
Meanwhile, evolutionary forces are pulling these more mobile, like-minded individuals together, because our political orientations play a key role in our choice of a mate. In society as a whole, spouses tend to resemble one another—at least a bit more than they would if coupling occurred at random—on most biometric and social traits. These traits include everything from skin color to earlobe size to income to major personality dimensions like Extraversion. Most of these statistical relationships are quite weak. But one of the strongest of all correlations between spouses by far is between their political orientations (0.65, to be precise). Spouses tend to have similar attitudes on moral issues like school prayer and abortion not because they converge over time, but rather because “birds of a feather flock together.” Biologists call this assortative mating. ...
I think he is on to something. I think he is also correct when he writes:
... The silver lining to these gloomy findings is that our ideological positions are not set in stone. Only about half of the variance in political orientations comes from genetic differences between individuals; the rest comes from the environment. So it’s certainly possible to transcend the attitudes that threaten to divide us. The first steps in doing so are to understand our political nature, develop realistic expectations about ideological diversity, and make a renewed commitment to pragmatism over ideology."
I think Tuschman is on to something. From my perspective, I find myself asking what role the church plays in all of this. Seems to me the church just mirrors what is happening in society and Christians on the left and right are quite content with that.
Researchers at George Mason University and Yale University bring the grave news that "belief in global warming" is at a "six year low".
I. Do You Believe?
The study [PDF] comes courtesy of principle investigator Professor Anthony Leiserowitz, an environmental scientist at Yale. Other principle investigators include Professors Edward Maibach and Connie Roser-Renouf (GMU communications professors, specializing in climate). Geoff Feinberg, a Yale university employee who lacks a Ph.D but was a private sector polling specialist on environmental issues also contributed to the work.
Another odd addition was psychopathology researcher turned climatology investigator Professor Seth Rosenthal, a member of Yale's climatology team. Rounding out the team was Professor Jennifer Marlon, a PhD expert in geography who currently teaches climate science at Yale.
The first oddity -- which you may notice -- is that there's nary a Ph.D credentialed climatologist in the field. I think this is worth noting as critics of the more alarmist brands of "global warming" rhetoric are often attacked for not holding climatology degrees, despite the fact that many of them hold master's degrees or doctorates in related fields, such as physics or civil engineering. ...
This is a rather lengthy article but it is the conclusion that caught my eye.
IV. More Science, More Debate, Less Politics
There's a need for research. But surveys on public opinion asked in shrill black and white terms offer little help to a legitimate debate.
And as much as there's a need for research, there's an equal age to push to remove this issue from a political debate. Until someone can come up with a financially sound approach to emissions control, the government needs to step back and let the private sector handle its own affairs.
Mankind is changing the climate in numerous ways, many of which surpass even strong warming on a local basis. From desertification to water cycle changes due to deforestation, many serious manmade climate changes are overlooked due to global warming's chokehold on media attention.
Instead of focusing on querying public beliefs and condemning (or praising) "nonbelievers", let us instead focus the dialogue on constructive solutions to both adopt a sensible path to alternative energy (e.g. algae, nuclear power, solar), so that when fossil fuel supplies do near exhaustion, we're prepared. And let's acknowledge that climate change -- manmade or not -- has always been occurring on planet Earth.
Last, but not least, let's not blame the media for putting things in alarmist or overly skeptical terms, when researchers themselves often resort to the same extremes for funding. After all, most members of the media have at least a bachelor's degree in a technical subject. Like many who publish climate research, we lack a Ph.D in climatology. But so long as we express our opinions respectfully, keeping an open and questioning mind, I see no reason why the media's opinions are more or less valid than non-climatologist thinking heads in academia. To suggest otherwise is simply elitist "ivory tower" type thinking.
I have no doubt the climate is changing. I don't doubt that human activity plays a role. I am not certain how big that role is. Based on significantly errant predictions about climate (temps have remained stable for 15 years and are now outside the 95% confidence level of modeled scientific predictions), I don't have confidence that scientists have a good grasp on the climate yet. Some are suggesting the 15 year hiatus in warming could last another 15 years. Furthermore, calculations about CO2 emissions all assume GDP growth and energy use are perfectly coupled. Yet, evidence is emerging that the two are decoupling and that GDP is taking less energy per dollar of GDP. That means less than predicted CO2. As with the temperature predictions, my confidence level in scientists’ ability to predict specific impacts is not high, but it is not zero. In short, I'm not greatly worried ... yet.
With all that said, there is a lot in there I could be wrong about. Maybe by a little. Maybe by a lot. There are significant unknowns. And that means we are looking at a risk management question. Rather than feeling the need to cling exclusively to one pole or another ... alarm or denial ... I'm hedging my actions against the idea the the challenges are not threatening. It doesn't hurt that there are some significant advantages to nuclear and renewable energy beyond climate concerns. That makes me willing to hedge even more in that direction. What I find most disappointing is those who think total alarm or total denial are the only strategic options that may be considered. For them, it is most often about making ideology prevail versus dealing prudently with challenges.
What I am articulating is not a "moderate" position between two extremes or some attempt to find a "third way." I see at as realism ... decision-making in the face of uncertainty and recognizing climate change remediation is more than a one dimensional challenge. I see what I'm advocating as an alternative way to todays default option, unwavering allegiance to exaggerated claims of certainty by alarmists and deniers.
I still hear many people today talk about the "Third World." It refers to those nations that were poor and not aligned with either the Western capitalism (First World) or the communist world (Second World.) The Third World has vanished and it is time to bury the term. The world’s nations and populations exist on a continuum and there are now multiple poles, not two, shaping the world. Furthermore, the story is not one of descent into global dystopia but one of rising prosperity. It is hard to meaningfully address contemporary problems with antiquated frameworks.
It’s time to develop a new framework for assessing the post-Cold War, post-9/11 world. ...
... The three worlds used to be capitalist, communist, and the rest. Now they are the West, the failed states, and the emerging challengers. But that's still too simple a view. A small and declining number of developing countries are charity cases. And none are competitors with us in a zero-sum game. Rather than dividing most of the planet into two threatening classes, we need to see states of the developing world as vital partners—both in strengthening the global economy and in preserving the global environment. ...
... Given that much of the world only makes headlines when it is in the midst of a humanitarian crisis and U.S. assistance is on the way, it isn’t surprising that the average American thinks things are going to hell in a handbasket: a recent survey of Americans found that two thirds believe extreme poverty worldwide has doubled over the past 20 years. The truth is that it has more than halved. This might also explain why Americans think that 28 percent of the federal budget goes to foreign aid—more than 28 times the actual share.
According to the World Bank, the developing world as a whole has seen average incomes rise from $1,000 in 1980 to $2,300 in 2011. Life expectancy at birth has increased from 60 to 69 years over that same time, and college enrollment has climbed from 6 to 23 percent of the college-age population. Progress is happening everywhere, including Africa: Six of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies over the past decade are in Africa. There were no inter-state conflicts in the world in 2013 and, despite tragic violence in countries including Syria and Afghanistan, the number of ongoing civil wars has dropped considerably over the last three decades. Emerging markets themselves are also playing an ever-expanding role in ensuring global security. The developing world is the major source for blue-helmeted UN peacekeepers, who are ending wars and preserving stability in 16 different operations worldwide. The 20 biggest contributors of police and military personnel to the UN’s 96,887 peacekeepers are developing countries. ...
Very interesting piece. For more data, see yesterday's post, The (Mostly) Improving State of the World.
New York Times: A Lonely Quest for Facts on Genetically Modified Crops
... Like some others on the nine-member Council, Greggor Ilagan was not even sure at the outset of the debate exactly what genetically modified organisms were: living things whose DNA has been altered, often with the addition of a gene from a distant species, to produce a desired trait. But he could see why almost all of his colleagues had been persuaded of the virtue of turning the island into what the bill’s proponents called a “G.M.O.-free oasis.”
“You just type ‘G.M.O.’ and everything you see is negative,” he told his staff. Opposing the ban also seemed likely to ruin anyone’s re-election prospects. ...
...At stake is how to grow healthful food most efficiently, at a time when a warming world and a growing population make that goal all the more urgent.
Scientists, who have come to rely on liberals in political battles over stem-cell research, climate change and the teaching of evolution, have been dismayed to find themselves at odds with their traditional allies on this issue. Some compare the hostility to G.M.O.s to the rejection of climate-change science, except with liberal opponents instead of conservative ones.
“These are my people, they’re lefties, I’m with them on almost everything,” said Michael Shintaku, a plant pathologist at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, who testified several times against the bill. “It hurts.” ...
This is a very interesting article with implications for how we wrestle with a host of complex issues. The scientific perspective on stem-cell research, climate change, and evolution dovetails well with the meta-narrative liberals have of the world. G.M.O.'s (and I'll add nuclear power) do not. What this tells us is that despite progressive pretentions of having a superior commitment to science, they don’t. Emotion enters into decision-making (“You a discrediting my narrative!”). They operate not irrationally but within bounded rationality, reason based in a limited understanding that is consistent with the way they generally understand the world to operate. They rely on heuristics to make sense of complex issues. They are not driven by science to their positions, but rather the science conveniently corresponds with a previously held narrative on some issues (and they are quite happy to appropriate that science in furtherance of their narrative.) But when the science runs counter to the narrative, it is the narrative, not science, which is determinative. It short liberals are just like the rest of us: human.
I’ve become increasingly aware over the years of hard it is to move past my initial emotional reactions when my metanarratives are challenges and press deeper to get at the truth. The personal disorientation is often stressful. But I also came to a realization early in life that the search for truth is often socially disruptive. The truth of these complex issues is frequently unfriendly to all metanarratives in one way or another, and as soon as you step on someone’s metanarrative you risk relationships. While I’m not intimidated by dealing with conflict, I certainly get no joy from perpetual battles. And that is precisely where pursuit of truth often leads.
I have a lot of admiration for Greggor Ilagan in this story. I’m sure I’m more right of center than he is and we would likely disagree on any number of policy matters. Still, I have a strong identification with Ilagan and the personal costs he experienced for being authentic in his discernment. He is an inspiration to me. May God grant that each of us would learn better to discern with warm hearts and cool heads.
We're living at a far more equal, peaceful, and prosperous time than the pontiff acknowledges....
Pope Francis is Times’ Person of the Year, an excellent pick in my estimation. He strikes me as man with incredible integrity. I’m enjoying watching him live into this new calling.
Of particular interest to me has been response to his Evangelii Gaudium, with the left gleeful about his condemnation of capitalism and the right going apoplectic about the same. In our age of bumper sticker sound bites, I don’t think either side is listening with appropriate nuance. I haven’t read and digested the whole document but I have read the sections that deal with economic issues. I don’t see a radical departure with what previous Pope’s have written.
Twenty years ago Pope John Paul II wrote the following in Centesimus Annus:
Can it perhaps be said that after the failure of communism capitalism is the victorious social system and the capitalism is the victorious social system and that capitalism should be the goal of the countries now making efforts to rebuild their economy and society? Is this model which ought to be proposed to the countries of the Third World which are searching for the path of true economic and civil progress?
The answer is obviously complex. If by “capitalism” is meant an economic system which recognizes the fundamental and positive role of business, the market, private property, and the resulting responsibility for the means of production as well as free creativity in the economic sector, then the answer is certainly in the affirmative, even though it would perhaps be more appropriate to speak of a “business economy,” “market economy,” or simply “free economy.” But if by “capitalism” is meant a system in which freedom in the economic sector is not circumscribed within a strong juridical framework which places it at the service of human freedom in its totality and which sees it as a particular aspect of that freedom, the core of which is ethical and religious, then the reply is certainly negative. (Centesimus Annus, 42)
I don’t find Pope Francis saying a great deal different although his emphasis may be a little different. We need to remember that John Paul II ministered under the tyranny of Soviet Communism while Francis did so under the tyranny of right-wing dictatorship. These differences are surely a factor.
The part that does trouble me some, as it does with an overwhelming number of religious figures who speak to economic issues, is a distorted picture of what is happening in the world. It isn’t what is said. It’s what’s missing. For the past century or two we have been living through the most astonishing surge in human flourishing in history. That reality needs to be brought into discussion every bit as much as the challenges and the injustices.
David Ropeik in How Risky Is It Really: Why Our Fears Don’t Always Match the Facts shows that we are innately inclined to fixate on threats and negative developments. People who do so aren’t stupid or ideological … they are human. All of us do it. The inclination to focus on threats is instinctive and has served human beings well over millennia. But in the face of very complex issues we need to bring our concerns into perspective with more objective analysis. Otherwise we run the risk of doing more harm than good. We need to approach problems with warm hearts and cool heads.
I have some minor quibbles with Tupy in the article but it brings important balance. I’ve documented some similar factors in past series like American Social Indicators and World Social Indicators, two series I intend to update next year. I think the challenge is to hear the Pope’s important calls for inclusion of the poor and his warning against our propensity to justify indifference. Not heeding the Pope's warnings is also to misunderstand the world. But we need to heed the warnings with an informed understanding of what is unfolding in the world. Read the Atalantic article and see what you think.
New Geography: The Dutch Rethink the Welfare State
When the Netherlands’ newly coronated king made his first annual appearance before parliament, he turned some heads when he addressed the deficiencies of the Dutch welfare state. “Due to social developments such as globalisation and an ageing population, our labour market and public services are no longer suited to the demands of the times”, the king said in a speech written by Liberal prime minister Mark Ruttes cabinet. “The classical welfare state is slowly but surely evolving into a ‘participation society’”, Willem-Alexander continued. By this he meant that the public systems should start encouraging self-reliance over government dependency.
It is worthwhile to reflect on the challenges faced by the Dutch welfare system. In a knowledge based economy, influenced by strong global competition and dynamic economic development, public policy must encourage thrift, education and build-up of social capital. Discouragingly high taxes and encouragingly high benefits are no way of doing so. Such policies are therefore likely to become even greater obstacles to social and economic development as they are today....
... Privatisation of social security and a shift from welfare to workfare have been coupled with the introduction of elaborate markets in the provision of health care and social protection. Not only other European welfare states, but in some regards even the US, can learn much from the Dutch policies of combining a universally compulsory Social health insurance scheme with market mechanisms. Netherlands has, similarly to Denmark, moved towards a “flexicurity” system where labour market regulations have been significantly liberalized within the frame of the welfare system. Taxes in the country peaked at 46 percent of GDP in the late 1980s, but have since fallen to ca. 38-39 percent. The Netherlands has moved from being a country with a large to a medium-sized welfare system, something that still cannot yet be said about culturally and politically similar Sweden and Denmark. The Dutch seem to have been earlier than their Nordic cousins in realizing that overly generous welfare systems and high taxes led to not only sluggish economic growth, but also exclusion of large groups from the labour market. ...
... There is a good chance that the Netherlands will continue on a long-term route towards smaller government and greater prosperity. This does not mean abandoning the idea of public welfare for its citizens but focusing more on enabling people to take care of themselves. The positive experience of past changes, coupled with the realization that change is needed, can catalyze change. If change indeed happens, it will likely not occur over-night. Continuous small steps towards change are more likely. The direction of European nations such as the Netherlands might not excite a US audience, but perhaps there is a lesson to be learned about the value of pragmatic and steady reforms? ...
“… And you can expect me to fight for the causes that stirred me in my twenties, when passions rose, when minds were set, and life mission accepted. And this is Hardball.”
Matthews is a leading edge boomer and I am a trailing edge Boomer. We were raised to believe our generation was special. We had a destiny. We were going to change the world. The problem is that Boomers never have had a consensus on what that change would look like. We’ve been divided about major issues through each stage in the life-cycle. Now, with all of us older than fifty, our mortality is becoming ever more apparent. Yet the “accepted mission” is unfulfilled.
The Huffington Post has a good piece, 15 Reasons Why American Politics Has Become An Apocalyptic Mess. A 16th reason is that each controversial policy development, whether a win for the left or right, is apocalyptic for half the Boomer generation. Scorched earth politics is the order of the day. With hubris, winners revel in their victory over the forces of evil while losers spontaneously break out into a rendition of Amazing Grace (often associated with funerals in our culture) having done the equivalent of following General Pickett into a glorious massacre. The existential stakes are high … and these people control the levers of power!
William Srauss and Neil Howe wrote several books about generations in the 1990s. Critics say they attribute too much to generations. They may be right. It is certainly true that many who use generational analysis way over-interpret, treating it like a generational horoscope. Strauss and Howe describe eras more as the turning of four seasons over roughly an eighty year period. The generation born during each of the seasons takes on qualities similar to generations born in similar previous seasons. They show (I think persuasively) that our era and our generation of leaders, is similar to the 1930s during the Depression and WW II, to the 1850s prior to the Civil War, and to the 1770s prior to the American Revolution. Strauss and Howe make the point that crises happen in every generation but crises that may not have been so destructive at another time become perilous because of the existential angst of the leaders.
The issue isn’t that all Boomers behave irresponsibly or that all irresponsible behavior comes from Boomers. The issue is the ethos we Boomers create. Those older generations still with us tend more toward an ethos of peacemaking while the generation younger than the Boomers tends more toward pragmatism. The challenge for society is not to be sucked into the dark side of either Boomer hubris or despair. While Boomers often bring some important idealistic vision to the table, I’m counting on you folks from other generations to save us from ourselves. ;-)
(Here is the Matthews Ad)
Washington Post, Monkey Cage: The conservative shift in public opinion has happened in all 50 states
... The figure below presents one illustration of this pattern. Here we compare the policy mood in each state in the early 1960s (hollow dots) and in the early 2000s (solid dots). Higher values indicate a more conservative policy mood. In each instance, the solid dot is to the right of the hollow dot, suggesting that the public’s policy mood has moved in a conservative direction in every state. Furthermore, most of these increases are statistically significant.
... Importantly, the public has not moved in a conservative direction in all issue areas. For example, support for same-sex marriage has been increasing across all states. It is also worth noting that our findings on the 1960s and 2000s hides important shifts in policy mood between these periods, such as increased policy liberalism during the 1980s. However, when it comes to support of government programs, the net conservative shift is clear. Considering the evidence that inequality is near an all-time high, this may seem like a surprising result. Prominent economic models, for example, expect that as the rich get richer, public support for government policies like spending more on education, infrastructure, and job creation would increase. Instead, across the country, the public’s policy mood has moved in a conservative direction. ...
I'd love to know what with the variables they measured over the last five years or so. Is there a move away from the conservative view? I thinking there probably has not been much.
The chart fits my perception of the electorate. I think we have been witnessing the emergence of a libertarian "live and let live" philosophy ... conservative on government and liberal on many social issues.
A momentary aside from the budget negotiations.
Remember after the Gabby Giffords shooting three years ago? Some people seized on violent metaphors by conservatives as an impetus for the shooting (like Sarah Palin putting crosshairs over the faces of candidates she opposed at her website). Other recent incidents have been framed in similar ways. President Obama made a speech about the need to avoid violent rhetoric in public discourse.
I’ve noted before that use of violent metaphors is a bipartisan behavior. That usually gets pushback from my left-leaning friends, saying that conservatives are far worse about this than liberals. I maintain it is worse with whichever camp is most aggrieved at the moment. On that note, I invite you to listen during our present troubles to the rhetoric of liberals, Democrats, and the President, as they talk about the Republicans as “terrorists,” “hostage takers,” and “suicide bombers,” with bombs strapped to their chest, ready to “blow up the government.”
ALL of us have a tendency, when hearing violent metaphors, to overly ascribe malevolence to people with whom we disagree and to discount it when uttered by those with whom we agree. When it is used toward people with whom we agree, we tend to take it personally. When it is used toward people with whom we disagree, we are less critical. The metaphors give voice to our anger and frustration. For that reason, if we are unable to achieve some emotional distance from the fray, as so many of us seem unable to do, we genuinely perceive that other tribes are meaner.
Personally, while I agree violent metaphors can become excessive, I don’t generally find them troubling. Jesus used them. “I will make you fishers of men.” Ever thought about this from the fish's standpoint? The Kingdom of God is where people get violently snatched from their lives, killed, and then consumed by their captors? Or how about Paul writing to the Galatians that he wished the Judaizers had cut the whole thing off during circumcision? Ouch! Violent metaphors are a part of everyday speech that, when used sparingly and appropriately, give voice to our emotional state. (However, they aren’t so effective in persuasion.) So while I agree that we see many public figures going over the top with this stuff, let us also admit that there is also a lot of posturing to show just how evil and insane the other tribe is with their violent rhetoric while ignoring our own.
You may now return to your news coverage of the budget negotiations. As for me, I’m focusing on the road to the World Series and cheering for the Cardinals to totally annihilate each of their adversaries … but in a Christ-like manner.
Gavin Kennedy at Adam Smith's Lost Legacy has another excellent post on misconceptions about Adam Smith: Five Errors About Adam Smith and Classical Political Economy. He quotes an article that appeared in the Grand Island Independent by Lee Elliott and then shows five errors the author makes based on widely circulated myths. I don't know the political persuasion of the author, but his case is similar to the case I hear from many progressives as they critique Smith on the way to critiquing capitalism. Here is the pertinent part of the article:
“There has been a fascinating struggle going on within the field of economics since the 1970s.
Historically, economics has been known as the “dismal” science because of its ruthless belief that people are motivated solely by their financial interests. This came from Adam Smith’s notion that if all of us act selfishly, then an “invisible hand” will guide the creation of the best society possible.
There is a flaw. Smith recognized there was a feature of human character that just didn’t fit this idea. That feature is altruism.
He said we do things for others even though we derive nothing from it except for the pleasure of caring for others. It just doesn’t seem to fit classic economic theory. It also was almost impossible to measure. As a result, economists dropped the idea that we’re altruistic.
In fact, there is a second flaw. Classic economics assumes we are consistently rational. We’re not. In fact, it has been demonstrated that, at times, we are quite irrational but we are consistent in our irrationality.”
Kennedy goes into detail but in short A) the "dismal science" label came from Thomas Carlye in 1849, with his opposition to abolition of slavery promoted by economists who saw people as equal and deserving of liberty (read more here), B) Smith wrote positively about the importance of altruism but understood it alone to be insufficient for a sustainable economy, C) Smith used the "invisible hand" metaphor twice in the Wealth of Nations, neither time to refer to markets as a magically directing us to the best possible society, and D) the idea of homo economicus, the human being as nothing more than machines calculating utility, didn't emerge until a century after Smith's work. Read Kennedy's whole article.
My point is that whatever legitimate points Elliott has to make about modern economics (and I think he has valid points) he severely undermines his credibility by butchering the facts about the history of the position he critiques. Like so many others, he takes at face value the appropriation of Adam Smith by some modern conservatives to justify their positions. Critiquing the fiction as fact places the critic in the same camp as his or her targets. Both camps demonstrate that they are not serious about a historically rooted conversation, but rather use fiction to buttress ideological views they arrived at by other than historical analysis. A reliable critic would first unmask the false appropriations of Smith then target what they believe to be erroneous about modern economic conceptions. If critics of modern economics would actually read Smith, I think they would be quite surprised at how much of a neoclassical neoconservative he was not.
There has recently been speculation about religious progressives becoming the new Religious Right. See the Atlantic The Rise of the Christian Left in America and Slate Are Millennials Killing Off the Religious Right? and Salon The rise of the religious left. Commonweal's Peter Steinfels offers some good insights in his piece, Religious Progressives? He is not persuaded that such a transition will happen:
Real Clear Science: Will Science Journalists Ever Confront Democrats
... He [Phil Pliat at Slate] also rattles off a list of anti-science Congressmen, all Republicans. Excluded from his list are the 53 Democratic Congressmen and Senators (compared to only two Republicans) who wrote a letter to the FDA demanding labels on genetically modified food. This policy position is in direct opposition to that held by organizations representing America’s finest scientists and doctors – the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the American Medical Association (AMA).
Plait also failed to mention the group of Democratic Congressmen who support a resolution proposing a new hypothesis about global warming: That climate change will cause an increase in the number of hookers around the globe.
Also AWOL from Plait’s list is Tom Harkin, the quack-loving, homeopathy-pushing Senator from Iowa who is responsible for helping legitimize alternative medicine. Such pseudoscientific voodoo has done more to harm average Americans than any misguided teachings on evolution or climate change.
Plait goes on to lament how scientific reports were censored in the “Bad Old Days” of the George W. Bush administration. He conveniently leaves out that the Obama Administration purposefully withheld information from scientists during the BP oil spill and doctored documents to make it appear as if scientists agreed with the drilling moratorium they implemented. And he did not mention that the Obama administration interfered with the FDA’s approval of genetically modified salmon. ...
... Finally, at the end of the article, Plait makes something of a confession:
I know I focus a lot on these attacks coming from the far right—because that’s where the overwhelming majority originate—but in truth they’re coming from all directions, and it’s up to us to do something about it. [Emphasis added]
Wrong. Plait focuses on the far right because he is a partisan. He ignores the equally massive volume of anti-science garbage coming from the far left because he sympathizes with that side of the aisle. It is confirmation bias combined with motivated forgetting. ...
Business Insider has these three interesting graphs from the Bureau of Economic Analysis.
Personal taxes are a little below the forty year average but federal spending including transfers is near all time highs, mostly due to an explosion in transfer payments. There is some good news from the New York Times: The Incredible Shrinking Budget Deficit
... The number crunchers at Goldman Sachs have lowered their estimates of the deficit both this year and next, on the back of higher-than-expected revenues and lower-than-projected spending. Analysts started the year projecting that the deficit in the current fiscal year would be about $900 billion. Earlier this year, they lowered the estimate to $850 billion. Now they have lowered it again, to $775 billion, or about 4.8 percent of economic output.
“Spending in the fiscal year to date is lower than a year ago and the nominal growth rate is lower than it has been in decades,” the Goldman economists wrote in a note to clients. “Revenues have also exceeded expectations, with a 12 percent gain fiscal year to date. What is more notable is that the strength in revenues preceded the payroll tax hike at the start of the year, and the spending decline does not seem to reflect sequestration, which has just started to take effect.” To translate: the deficit could come in even smaller than currently anticipated because of spending cuts and higher tax rates. ...
Not everyone is as postive about the growth projections. See the NYT piece for more details
Democracy: Of Freedom and Fairness - Jonathan Haidt
Someday I'm actually going to finish reading Haidt's book but in the meantime I found this article fascinating. I think it fits well as I try to listen to the narratives and values underlying confrontation over controversial issues.
... I conducted interviews to find out how people feel about harmless taboo violations—for example, a family that eats its pet dog after the dog was killed by a car, or a woman who cuts up her nation’s flag to make rags to clean her toilet. In all cases the actions are performed in private and nobody is harmed; yet the actions feel wrong to many people—they found them disgusting or disrespectful. In my interviews, only one group of research subjects—college students in the United States—fully embraced the principle of harmlessness and said that people have a right to do whatever they want as long as they don’t hurt anyone else. People in Brazil and India, in contrast, had a broader moral domain—they were willing to condemn even actions that they admitted were harmless. Disgust and disrespect were sufficient grounds for moral condemnation.
I had predicted those cross-national differences. What I hadn’t predicted was that differences across social classes within each nation would be larger than differences across nations. In other words, college students at the University of Pennsylvania were more similar to college students in Recife, Brazil, than they were to the working-class adults I interviewed in West Philadelphia, a few blocks from campus. There’s something about the process of becoming comparatively well-off and educated that seems to shrink the moral domain down to its bare minimum—I won’t hurt you, you don’t hurt me, and beyond that, to each her own. ...
... Drawing on the work of many anthropologists (particularly Richard Shweder at the University of Chicago) and many evolutionary biologists and psychologists, my colleagues and I came to the conclusion that there are six best candidates for being the taste buds of the moral mind: Care/Harm, Fairness/Cheating, Liberty/Oppression, Loyalty/Betrayal, Authority/Subversion, and Sanctity/Degradation.
Moral foundations theory helped to explain the differing responses to those harmless taboo violations (the dog-eating and flag-shredding). Those stories always violated the Loyalty, Authority, or Sanctity foundations in ways that were harmless. My educated American subjects (who, in retrospect, I realize were mostly liberal) generally rejected those three foundations and had a moral “cuisine” built entirely on the first three foundations; so if an action doesn’t harm anyone (Care/Harm), cheat anyone (Fairness/Cheating), or violate anyone’s freedom (Liberty/Oppression), then you can’t condemn someone for doing it. But in more traditional societies, the moral domain is broader. Moral “cuisines” are typically based on all six foundations (though often with much less reliance on Liberty), and it is perfectly sensible to condemn people for homosexual behavior among consenting adults, or other behaviors that challenge traditions or question authority.
Everyone values the first three foundations, although liberals value the Care foundation more strongly. For example, they show the strongest agreement with assertions such as “Compassion for those who are suffering is the most crucial virtue.” But this difference on Care is small compared to the enormous difference on items such as these: “People should be loyal to their family members, even when they have done something wrong.” “Respect for authority is something all children need to learn.” “People should not do things that are disgusting, even if no one is harmed.” Those three items come from the scales we use to measure the Loyalty, Authority, and Sanctity foundations, respectively. You can see how social conservatives, whose morality rests in large part on those foundations, don’t see eye to eye with liberals. Basically, liberals want to loosen things up, especially in ways that they believe will make more room for women, African Americans, gay people, and other oppressed groups to escape from traditional strictures, express themselves, and succeed. Conservatives want to tighten things up, especially in ways that they perceive will help parents to raise more respectful and self-controlled kids, and will assist the police and other authorities in maintaining order. You can see how those disagreements led to battle after battle on issues related to sexuality, drug use, religion, family life, and patriotism. You can see why liberals sometimes say that conservatives are racist, sexist, and otherwise intolerant. You can see why social conservatives sometimes say that liberals are libertine anarchists. ...
The Atlantic: The Emotional Psychology of a Two-Party System
Defense mechanisms against emotional ambivalence incline us to fully embrace one side and fully reject the other -- which makes compromise nearly impossible.
... Such rhetoric reflects a black-and-white, us-versus-them approach that views each debate over taxation, social policy and the role of government not as a problem in need of a solution but a battle within an ongoing war. During warfare, our aim is of course to vanquish the enemy and emerge victorious; to reach out to your enemy makes you a villainous collaborator, a traitor to your cause. On the right, anyone with the temerity to suggest that Obama and the Democrats have some redeeming qualities is likely to be attacked from within the party. Just ask Chris Christie.
Propaganda during wartime typically dehumanizes the enemy. Our current political rhetoric likewise relies on two-dimensional caricatures to de-legitimize the opposition, encouraging us to hate "them." The process is more blatantly vocal on the political right, with the radio voices of conservatism inciting hatred for cartoon versions of President Obama, Nancy Pelosi, members of the liberal press, etc. Rush Limbaugh has gone so far as to compare Obama to Adolf Hitler, the epitome of unalloyed evil. While less obvious, the left has its own set of two-dimensional villains to hate: greedy and heartless bankers, evil corporations, gun-toting religious freaks.
For both sides, the Other often lacks true dimension. In propaganda, the enemy never has a legitimate point of view that needs to be taken seriously and balanced against our own views. Hating an enemy leaves no room for complex, ambiguous problems without an obvious solution. It eliminates the uncomfortable tension that arises from doubt and uncertainty amidst difficult choices. ...
I'm not convinced that "... process is more blatantly vocal on the political right ..." but other than that I think he is on to something.
... As the neurologist Robert Burton has noted , ambiguity or confusion is so difficult for many of us to bear that we instead retreat from it into a feeling of certainty, believing we know something without any doubts, even when we actually don't and often can't know. Those of us who have trouble with such discomfort often resort to black-and-white thinking instead. Rather than feeling uncertain or ambivalent, struggling with areas of gray, we reduce that complexity to either/or.
We may define one idea or point of view as bad (black) and reject it, aligning ourselves with the good (white) perspective. Feelings of anger and self-righteousness often accompany this process, bolstering our conviction that we are in the right and the other side in the wrong. Hatred for the rejected point of view keeps ambiguity and uncomfortable complexity from re-entering the field.
Black-and-white thinking reflects the psychological process known as splitting. When we feel unable to tolerate the tension aroused by complexity, we "resolve" that complexity by splitting it into two simplified and opposing parts, usually aligning ourselves with one of them and rejecting the other. As a result, we may feel a sort of comfort in believing we know something with absolute certainty; at the same time, we've over-simplified a complex issue.
On the emotional front, splitting comes into play when we feel hostile toward the people we love. Holding onto feelings of love in the presence of anger and even hatred is a difficult thing for most of us to do. Sometimes hatred proves so powerful that it overwhelms and eclipses love, bringing the relationship to an end. More often we repress awareness of our hostile feelings; or we might split them off and direct them elsewhere, away from the people we care about.
In other words, splitting as a psychological defense mechanism resolves emotional ambivalence -- love and hatred toward the same person -- by splitting off one half of those feelings and directing them elsewhere, away from the loved one. ...
And when you consider that a great many of the challenges we confront are polarities to be managed, not problems to be solved, our battles to be won, all sorts of dysfunction emerges from splitting. By analogy, try splitting inhaling from exhaling and see what happens. I think the same is true for many problems we face in social institutions and in society at large.
Catholic Culture: Is the Default Position Shifting to Subsidiarity?
Not so long ago, most ecclesiastical officials and Catholic academicians emphasized solidarity as a political ideal. Owing to a common misunderstanding of both government and solidarity, that emphasis was almost always at the expense of subsidiarity. In recent years, however, the tide in favor of subsidiarity has begun to turn.
It remains true that concern for the poor and marginalized must be a significant political priority, reflected in how we conceive and use government. But what too many Catholics missed for much of the twentieth century was that solidarity is not really a political virtue at all, whereas subsidiarity is. Solidarity is the concern of all for all. It is the sense of responsibility we are all supposed to have for each other. It leads to that true care and reciprocity which are the marks of a healthy society, and it is prior to politics and government.
But insofar as solidarity has been incorrectly viewed as a political virtue, too many Catholics have insisted on the need to mimic solidarity by using government to enforce what they think the results of solidarity should look like. ...
... In contrast, the principle of subsidiarity is distinctively a political virtue, though not exclusively so. Based on the truth that human dignity includes the right and the duty of persons to freely participate in the solutions to their own problems, the principle of subsidiarity states that everything should be done at the lowest possible level of organization, and that whenever something more is needed, higher levels of organization are obliged to assist lower levels rather than to supplant them. This means that in the political order the virtue of subsidiarity actually preserves and fosters the conditions within which solidarity can flourish, even if solidarity does not necessarily flourish as a direct result. ...
Fakeisthenewreal.org: Electoral college reform (fifty states with equal population)
Their methodology is pretty interesting. I now live in Nodaway. What do you think?
The Economist: The Nordic countries: The next supermodel
Politicians from both right and left could learn from the Nordic countries.
...The idea of lean Nordic government will come as a shock both to French leftists who dream of socialist Scandinavia and to American conservatives who fear that Barack Obama is bent on “Swedenisation”. They are out of date. In the 1970s and 1980s the Nordics were indeed tax-and-spend countries. Sweden’s public spending reached 67% of GDP in 1993. Astrid Lindgren, the inventor of Pippi Longstocking, was forced to pay more than 100% of her income in taxes. But tax-and-spend did not work: Sweden fell from being the fourth-richest country in the world in 1970 to the 14th in 1993.
Since then the Nordics have changed course—mainly to the right. Government’s share of GDP in Sweden, which has dropped by around 18 percentage points, is lower than France’s and could soon be lower than Britain’s. Taxes have been cut: the corporate rate is 22%, far lower than America’s. The Nordics have focused on balancing the books. While Mr Obama and Congress dither over entitlement reform, Sweden has reformed its pension system (see Free exchange). Its budget deficit is 0.3% of GDP; America’s is 7%.
On public services the Nordics have been similarly pragmatic. So long as public services work, they do not mind who provides them. Denmark and Norway allow private firms to run public hospitals. Sweden has a universal system of school vouchers, with private for-profit schools competing with public schools. Denmark also has vouchers—but ones that you can top up. When it comes to choice, Milton Friedman would be more at home in Stockholm than in Washington, DC.
All Western politicians claim to promote transparency and technology. The Nordics can do so with more justification than most. The performance of all schools and hospitals is measured. Governments are forced to operate in the harsh light of day: Sweden gives everyone access to official records. Politicians are vilified if they get off their bicycles and into official limousines. The home of Skype and Spotify is also a leader in e-government: you can pay your taxes with an SMS message.
This may sound like enhanced Thatcherism, but the Nordics also offer something for the progressive left by proving that it is possible to combine competitive capitalism with a large state: they employ 30% of their workforce in the public sector, compared with an OECD average of 15%. They are stout free-traders who resist the temptation to intervene even to protect iconic companies: Sweden let Saab go bankrupt and Volvo is now owned by China’s Geely. But they also focus on the long term—most obviously through Norway’s $600 billion sovereign-wealth fund—and they look for ways to temper capitalism’s harsher effects. Denmark, for instance, has a system of “flexicurity” that makes it easier for employers to sack people but provides support and training for the unemployed, and Finland organises venture-capital networks. ...
1. I love maps and charts. Naturally I was drawn to this: 36 Maps That Explain The Entire World. Here is just one example:
2. Roger Pielke, Jr., says It's Time to Bury the Easterlin Paradox.
"The Easterlin paradox suggest that in terms of human happiness -- a
squishy concept to be sure -- there is a limit to economic growth beyond
which there really is just no point in attaining more wealth. Further, a
decoupling between income and happiness at some threshold would imply
that GDP would not be a good measure of welfare, we would need some
A recent paper (PDF) by Daniel Sacks, Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers argues that the Easterlin paradox is also wrong. ..."
3. John Danforth thinks We Need Less Religion in our Politics and Less Politics in our Religion.
"Why isn't there more outrage about the president's unilateral targeted assassination program on the left?"
5. Arnold Kling with an interesting piece on the role of Jews in the rise of the modern urbanized economic order. The Unintended Consequences of God
"In those days, most people were farmers, for whom literacy’s costs generally outweighed its benefits. However, in an urbanized society with skilled occupations, literacy pays off. As urbanization gradually increased in the late Middle Ages, Jews came to fill high-skilled occupations. Botticini and Eckstein argue that literacy, rather than persecution, is what led Jews into these occupations."
6. New Geography wants to know Is Urbanism The New Trickle-Down Economics?
"But while progressives would clearly mock this policy [trickle-down economics], modern day urbanism often resembles nothing so much as trickle-down economics, though this time mostly advocated by those who would self-identify as being from the left. The idea is that through investments catering to the fickle and mobile educated elite and the high end businesses that employ and entertain them, cities can be rejuvenated in a way that somehow magically benefits everybody and is socially fair."
7. NPR has nice piece on mini-reacters. Are Mini-Reactors The Future Of Nuclear Power?
8. Mark Perry excerpts a quote from green libertarian John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market.
“Capitalism is the greatest creation humanity has done for social cooperation. It has lifted humanity out of the dirt. In statistics we discovered when we were researching the book, about 200 years ago when capitalism was created, 85% of the people alive lived on $1 a day. Today, that number is 16%. Still too high, but capitalism is wiping out poverty across the world. 200 years ago illiteracy rates were 90%. Today, they are down to about 14%. 200 years ago the average lifespan was 30. Today it is 68 across the world, 78 in the States, and almost 82 in Japan. This is due to business. This is due to capitalism. And it doesn’t get credit for it. Most of the time, business is portrayed by its enemies as selfish and greedy and exploitative, yet it’s the greatest value creator in the world.”
9. Economist Gavin Kennedy with some interesting thoughts on the relationship between the state and the economy in developing nations:
The problem is to achieve the right balance between a competitive market economy and an effective state: markets where possible; the state where necessary.
10. Climate Change: Key Data Points from Pew Research. Highlights some interesting shifts in the public's priorities.
11. Great piece about yet another way family life is changing. Yes, I’m a Homemaker
I’m a guy. My wife works. We’ve got no kids. I’m a stay-at-home dude.
"... What a sweet picture this conjures: the stay-at-home dad nurturing his children, looking after the house and helping support his wife in her budding career and shelving his own big ambitions for later. Now it gets a little awkward. There is no adorable kid, nor plans to have one. No starter home that needs knocking into shape. I'm not just doing this temporarily until I find something meaningful to do. I’m actually a full-time homemaker ... not stay-at-home dad but stay-at-home dude. A conversational pause. Where do you mentally file this guy? Usually I just change the subject. ..."
12. The Atlantic reports that Women Are Often Remarkably Reluctant to Ask for Help Around the House
A new study shows that high-earning women are more likely to let their houses be messy than to hire a housekeeper or get their husbands and kids to pitch in. ...
... "You can purchase substitutes for your own time, you can get your husband to do more, or you can all just do less," Killewald says. "Whether women outsource housework in particular has less to do with resources, but whether or not paid labor is viewed as an appropriate strategy for undertaking domestic work.
Doing less housework seems to be a popular option. ...
13. Business insider reports on a finding that comes as no shock to me: Men Really Do Have A Harder Time Reading Other People's Emotions.
Psychiatrists have concluded that males take longer to assess facial expressions as their brains have to work twice as hard to work out whether another person looks friendly or intelligent.
14. Daniel Kirk with a thoughtful piece Homosexuality under the Reign of Christ
In particular, researchers found that 40% of people say they would avoid someone who unfriended them on Facebook, while 50% say they would not avoid a person who unfriended them. Women were more likely than men to avoid someone who unfriended them, the researchers found.
... Libraries are responding to the decline of print in a variety of creative ways, trying to remain relevant – especially to younger people – by embracing the new technology. Many, such as New York’s Queens Public Library, are reinventing themselves as centers for classes, job training, and simply hanging out. In one radical example, a new $1.5 million library scheduled to open in San Antonio, Texas, this fall will be completely book-free, with its collection housed exclusively on tablets, laptops, and e-readers. “Think of an Apple store,” the Bexar County judge who is leading the effort told NPR. It’s a flashy and seductive package.
But libraries are about more than just e-readers or any other media, as important as those things are. They are about more than just buildings such as the grand edifices erected by Carnegie money, or the sleek and controversial new design for the New York Public Library’s central branch. They are also about human beings and their relationships, specifically, the relationship between librarians and patrons. And that is the relationship that the foundation created by Microsoft co-founder’s Paul G. Allen is seeking to build in a recent round of grants to libraries in the Pacific Northwest. ...
17. 3-D Printing just gets more amazing. A 3D Printer That Generates Human Embryonic Stem Cells
3-D printers can produce gun parts, aircraft wings, food and a lot more, but this new 3-D printed product may be the craziest thing yet: human embryonic stem cells. Using stem cells as the "ink" in a 3-D printer, researchers in Scotland hope to eventually build 3-D printed organs and tissues. A team at Heriot-Watt University used a specially designed valve-based technique to deposit whole, live cells onto a surface in a specific pattern.
Posted at 11:44 AM in Capitalism and Markets, Culture, Economic Development, Economics, History, Male and Female, Politics, Public Policy, Religion, Social Media, Sociology, Technology (Biotech & Health), Technology (Digital, Telecom, & Web), Technology (Energy), Technology (Manufacturing & Construction)) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
New Geography: How Green Are Millennials?
"... President Obama was also right, from a Millennials’ perspective, to emphasize the need for America to become a leader in sustainable energy technologies. Seventy-one percent of Millennials believe America’s energy policy should focus on developing “alternative sources of energy such as wind, solar and hydrogen technology; only a quarter believes that it should focus on “expanding exploration and production of oil, coal and natural gas.” Similarly, the RICN’s “Blueprint for a Millennial America,” a report prepared by thousands of Millennials who participated in their “Think 2040” project, placed the development and usage of renewable sources of energy at the top of all other environmental initiatives.
The participants’ proposed solutions to the challenge, however, were not focused on the kind of top-down change so common to Boomers. .Instead the proposals emphasized taking action at the community level. No one, the RICN blueprint said , should be asked to “make sacrifices without fully considering the cost to communities” whose “texture” is most likely to be impacted dealing with the challenge.
Many politicians fail to notice this unique Millennial perspective. Members of the generation disagree sharply with their elders on the best way to address environmental challenges, preferring to tackle them through individual initiative and grassroots action rather than a heavy-handed top down bureaucratic approach. ..."
That last sentence gives me hope for the future. ;-)
New York Times: The Hidden Prosperity of the Poor - Thomas Edsall
A concept promulgated by the right — the notion of the hidden prosperity of the poor — underpins the conservative take on the ongoing debate over rising inequality.
The political right uses this concept to undermine the argument made by liberals that the increasingly unequal distribution of income poses a danger to the social fabric as well as to the American economy.
President Obama forcefully articulated the case from the left in an address on Dec. 6, 2011 at Osawatomie High School in Kansas:
This kind of gaping inequality gives lie to the promise that’s at the very heart of America: that this is a place where you can make it if you try. We tell people — we tell our kids — that in this country, even if you’re born with nothing, work hard and you can get into the middle class. We tell them that your children will have a chance to do even better than you do. That’s why immigrants from around the world historically have flocked to our shores.
The conservative counterargument – that life for the poor and the middle class is better than it seems – goes like this: Even with stagnant or modestly growing incomes, the poor and middle class benefit from the fact that a stable or declining share of income is now required for basic necessities, leaving more money for discretionary spending. According to this theory, consumption inequality – the disparity between the amount of money spent on goods and services by the rich, the middle class and the poor — remains relatively unchanged, even while income inequality worsens. ...
I like this article in that I think he does a fairly good job of laying out the conservative argument and then presents his counterargument in measured tones. There is a lot to process here, and there counterarguements to Edsall's arguements, but I appreciate articles that constructively frame issues.
1. Lots of news outlets picking up on this story about technology displacing humans. In The Future, Machines May Have All The Jobs. We all know where this leads.
Seriously, technological innovation always creates dislocations. Fear of machines replacing humans goes back to the beginning of the industrial revolution. The economy has always adapted and expect it will again.
"The idea that innovation and new technology have stopped driving growth is getting increasing attention. But it is not well founded."
3. Business Insider reports that The Worldwide Demographic Cliff Is Going To Be Brutal
Alas, that won't help, as this graph compiled by statistician Simon Hedlin shows. The total dependency ratio (children and retirees, compared with those of working age) fell in all G20/OECD nations bar Germany and Sweden between 1960 and 2010. In the next fifty years, it will rise in all those nations, bar India and South Africa. In most nations, the ratio will rise by 40% or more; there are huge increases in dependency in parts of Asia (China and South Korea) and in eastern Europe. Britain and America are towards the bottom of the table, but their problems are big enough.
There are many implications. With more dependents to care for, it is very hard to imagine how we will pay down our debts. And it is also very hard to imagine how one can possibly expect government spending to shrink significantly.
"... BiblioTech, a $1.5 million Bexar County paperless library will have scores of computer terminals, laptops, tablets, and e-readers – but not a dog-eared classic or dusty reference book in sight.
“Think of an Apple store,” Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, who led his county’s bookless library project, told NPR when describing the planned library.
The 4,989-squre-foot, digital-only library, one of the first of its kind, will feature 100 e-readers available for circulation, 50 e-readers for children, 50 computer stations, 25 laptops, and 25 tablets for on-site use. Patrons can check out e-readers for two weeks or load books onto their own devices.
“A technological evolution is taking place,” Wolff says. “And I think we’re stepping in at the right time.” ..."
5. Some good thoughts on The 10 Things Entrepreneurs Waste The Most Time On
"UCLA's survey of incoming college freshmen shows fewer identify as liberals and an increasing number saying the economy significantly affected their college choice."
7.Walter Russell Mead on The End of the Religious Right?
"In some ways, this shift isn’t as dramatic as it might first appear. Even though younger evangelicals are increasingly walking away from the religious right, they are still self-identifying as Republicans (54 percent) more than Democrats (26 percent). Younger Christians still agree with the religious right on the issues but reject the movement’s tactics, tone, and narrow focus on social issues."
8. Scientific American: The Liberals' War on Science. How politics distorts science on both ends of the spectrum.
"Surveys show that moderate liberals and conservatives embrace science roughly equally (varying across domains), which is why scientists like E. O. Wilson and organizations like the National Center for Science Education are reaching out to moderates in both parties to rein in the extremists on evolution and climate change. Pace Barry Goldwater, extremism in the defense of liberty may not be a vice, but it is in defense of science, where facts matter more than faith—whether it comes in a religious or secular form—and where moderation in the pursuit of truth is a virtue."
9. How did Fido become domesticated by humans? Dog evolved 'on the waste dump'
10. Any volunteers? Harvard Professor Seeks Woman Willing To Have A Neanderthal Baby
11. A fascinating history of high heels. Why did men stop wearing high heels?
That's all for this week. Like the Kruse Kronicle at Facebook.
The unlikely coalition between Tea Party libertarians and small organic farmers.
Laura Bledsoe didn't set out to join a political movement, she merely wanted to serve what she considered a sustainable meal. ...
... But it soon became apparent that her nervousness wasn't unfounded.
The health inspector arrived simultaneously with several of the event's guests. The Bledsoes led her to where the food was being prepared while the guests were guided on a chaperoned tour of the farm by interns.
"She literally came in and started looking for things she could find fault with," Laura recalls. "That just became apparent in her attitude and demeanor with how she handled things."
The health inspector raised several concerns, but chief among them was the meat the Bledsoes were preparing to serve. Because the event was advertised as a "zero mile footprint," the meat hadn't been sent through a USDA processing plant, as is required for any meat purchased at a grocery store or restaurant, so the inspector deemed it illegal to serve.
"She immediately demanded that we send our guests home and cease the event, and if we didn't she would call the police and have them personally escorted off the property."
Increasingly panicked, flustered, and "having a nervous breakdown," Laura attempted to reason with the inspector without success. In addition to being ordered to send their guests home, the farmers were also told they needed to pour bleach over all the meat to ensure it would never be served.
"It's one thing when you throw out a piece of food that you have no relationship to," Laura says. "But we raised these animals. When you raise animals and slaughter them and then prepare them, it's with great reverence that you eat this food. The total disregard for any of that was just appalling to me."
In the middle of this disruption, the Bledsoes recalled they had a number for the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund, a non-profit organization that protects the legal rights of family farms and artisan food producers. Though it was a Friday evening, the organization's lead counsel Gary Cox called them back within 15 minutes. He instructed them to ask if the inspector if she had a search warrant, if she didn't, Cox told them to tell her to leave the property.
The tactic worked. Though the health inspector threatened to come back with the police, she left, leaving the Bledsoes to explain what had happened to their guests. They had already poured bleach on the meat, but they were still able to serve their vegetable dishes without further disturbance, and of the 100 who signed up for the event, only a handful left because of time constraints, Laura says.
While the Bledsoes didn't immediately hear back from the health department, they decided to send out an E-mail recounting the experience to shareholders of their local food delivery service, known as a CSA. Soon, the story went viral, traveling the globe and leading to hundreds of E-mails from farmers and activists. Eventually, Laura was contacted by Nevada lawmakers, many of whom were sympathetic to her cause and wanted to reform state laws so that such a fiasco wouldn't happen again.
Without even meaning to, the Bledsoes found themselves swept up in a political movement that has only accrued momentum in recent years, one in which owners of small local farms and gardens are pitted against government agencies, both local and federal, over the rights of property owners and private citizens in terms of how and where they can prepare their food.
But what is perhaps even more peculiar about this movement is its bipartisan interest. Among its most vocal proponents you'll find an amalgamation of ardent Tea Party libertarians—concerned over property rights and the over-extended reach of government—and liberal environmentalists who believe the local, organic farm is the ecologically-friendly solution to the nation's health woes. ...
This is a wonderful case study of markets, public policy, and the challenge of crafting appropriate regulation. In many industries, regulation is as much about creating barriers against new competitors entering the industry as it is about safety or protecting consumers. It is a false perception that large corporations do not like regulation. In fact, enlisting government help in erecting barriers to new competitors is an intentional competitive strategy. I don't know if that is necessarily the case here but we can certainly see how adversely impacts small farmers, whether by design or not.
(Reuters) - The percentage of workers belonging to unions tumbled to 11.3 percent in 2012, the lowest percentage in 76 years, led by dramatic declines in states where lawmakers have put organized labor in the political crosshairs, government figures showed on Wednesday.
The total number of union members fell by nearly 400,000, from 11.8 percent of the workforce in 2011, the Labor Department report on union membership said. The rate of 11.3 percent of the workforce was the lowest since 1936, when Franklin Roosevelt was president. ...
... Some analysts blame unions for the drop. Membership has been falling since 2008, when it was 16.1 million, or 12.4 percent of the workforce, federal data shows. It peaked in 1954, when 28.3 percent of workers were represented by organized labor.
"They must now admit that they are not investing enough staff and funds in organizing and not embarking on an imaginative journey to rediscover the relevancy of unions," said Gary Chaison, professor of industrial relations at Clark University. "Essentially, workers are feeling tremendous job insecurity ... Yet as today's figures suggest, workers are not turning to unions to act as their voice." ...
New York Times: The Collective Turn - David Brooks
David Brooks captures the essence of my perspective once again.
"... I am not a liberal like Obama, so I was struck by what he left out in his tour through American history. I, too, would celebrate Seneca Falls, Selma and Stonewall, but I’d also mention Wall Street, State Street, Menlo Park and Silicon Valley. I’d emphasize that America has prospered because we have a decentralizing genius.
When Europeans nationalized their religions, we decentralized and produced a great flowering of entrepreneurial denominations. When Europe organized state universities, our diverse communities organized private universities. When Europeans invested in national welfare states, American localities invested in human capital.
America’s greatest innovations and commercial blessings were unforeseen by those at the national headquarters. They emerged, bottom up, from tinkerers and business outsiders who could never have attracted the attention of a president or some public-private investment commission.
I would have been more respectful of this decentralizing genius than Obama was, more nervous about dismissing it for the sake of collective action, more concerned that centralization will lead to stultification, as it has in every other historic instance.
I also think Obama misunderstands this moment. The Progressive Era, New Deal and Great Society laws were enacted when America was still a young and growing nation. They were enacted in a nation that was vibrant, raw, underinstitutionalized and needed taming.
We are no longer that nation. We are now a mature nation with an aging population. Far from being underinstitutionalized, we are bogged down with a bloated political system, a tangled tax code, a byzantine legal code and a crushing debt.
The task of reinvigorating a mature nation is fundamentally different than the task of civilizing a young and boisterous one. It does require some collective action: investing in human capital. But, in other areas, it also involves stripping away — streamlining the special interest sinecures that have built up over the years and liberating private daring. ..."
The last sentence of this paragraph is the key.
"... Obama made his case beautifully. He came across as a prudent, nonpopulist progressive. But I’m not sure he rescrambled the debate. We still have one party that talks the language of government and one that talks the language of the market. We have no party that is comfortable with civil society, no party that understands the ways government and the market can both crush and nurture community, no party with new ideas about how these things might blend together.
But at least the debate is started. Maybe that new wind will come."
Very well said.!
Peter Wehner has another good post this week following up on his comments last week about Jim Dobson, Christ Before the Cause: The New Evangelical Politics, courtesy of Tim Dalrymple.
...One of the things I’ve noticed over the years is that some of the most prominent Christian figures in politics radiate a sense that their work is essential if the Lord is to accomplish His goals on earth. Because they believe so much depends on them, they develop an aggressive, anxious, even desperate spirit. They seem to believe that only they and a few others are strong enough to resist compromising with evil. And over the years they have demonstrated a barely contained disdain toward those who do not share their zeal for their cause. This can create its own set of problems.
I’m reminded here of the cautionary tale of Sheldon Vanauken, who in A Severe Mercy wrote about his days in the anti-Vietnam war movement. “I was one of those caught up in the mood and action oft the 1960s,” Vanauken wrote:
Christ, I thought, would surely have me oppose what appeared an unjust war. But the Movement, whatever its ideals, did a good deal of hating. And Christ, gradually, was pushed to the rear: Movement goals, not God, became first, in fact — not only for me but for other Christians involved, including priests. I now think that making God secondary (which in the end is to make Him nothing) is, quite simply, the mortal danger in social action, especially in view of the marked intimations of virtue — even arrogant virtue — that often perilously accompany it. Some may avoid this danger, perhaps. But I was not obeying the first and greatest commandment — to love God first — nor it is clear that I was obeying the second — to love my neighbour. Hating the oppressors of my neighbor isn’t perhaps quite what Christ had in mind.
Over the years, some politically active Christian leaders seem to believe that at stake in their work is nothing less than the influence of Christianity in America, as if Christ depends on them instead of the other way around. There are multiple effects to such a mindset, including apocalyptic rhetoric and absolutism. At some point, though, characterizing every election and every important piece of social legislation as a moral tipping point for America begins to wear thin.
My own sense of things is that an increasing number of evangelicals, particularly younger evangelicals, want their brand of politics to be less partisan and bitter than in the past, as well as more high-minded and more firmly rooted in principles. They want their leaders to display a lighter touch, a less distraught and angry spirit, a more gracious tone. In short, they seem to be looking for a politics that is both moral and civil. And they are thirsting for more serious Christian reflection on human society and the human person — on first principles. ...
The Monkey Cage: Maybe “The Big Sort” Never Happened
Many readers will remember the book The Big Sort by Bill Bishop. It argues that Americans are increasingly clustered in like-minded political communities. If one categorizes a county by how its residents voted in presidential elections, as of 2004 nearly half (48%) of Americans lived in “landslide” countries where one presidential candidate got at least 60% of the vote. In 1976, that number was 27%.
A new article (currently and graciously ungated) by political scientists Samuel Abrams and Morris Fiorina challenges this account, however. Abrams and Fiorina argue that presidential voting is not a reliable indicator of partisanship, as voting may depend on idiosyncratic features of candidates. Better, they argue, is party registration, which more reliably measures people’s underlying partisan preference (if any).
When landslide counties are identified using party registration and this same 60/40 threshold, the trend is the complete opposite of a Big Sort. The fraction living in such counties was 50% in 1976; in 2008, it was 15%. This same conclusion emerges using thresholds lower than 60/40.
Abrams and Fiorina conclude: ...
I think Bishop's thesis is right. Still, it is interesting to hear some skeptical analysis.
A group of Chinese intellectuals has called on the government to implement urgent political reforms and respect human rights or risk "violent revolution".
In an open letter 71 top academics warned that growing economic imbalances were fuelling social unrest and an uprising could erupt if reforms were not implemented immediately, Hu Xingdou, one of the signatories, told AFP Monday.
"If urgent systematic reforms needed by Chinese society continue to suffer setbacks and stagnate, then official corruption and social dissatisfaction will boil up to a crisis point," said the letter, posted on the Internet last week.
"China will once again miss the opportunity for peaceful reform, and slip into the turbulence and chaos of violent revolution." ...
... While the latest call for reform steered away from Charter 08's advocacy of western-style democracy, it called on the Communist Party fully to implement the freedoms of speech, press and association that are protected by the constitution but routinely ignored by the authorities and police. ...
New York Times: A Conservative Case for the Welfare State
... Moreover, there are sound reasons why a conservative would support a welfare state. Historically, it has been conservatives like the 19th century chancellor of Germany, Otto von Bismarck, who established the welfare state in Europe. They did so because masses of poor people create social instability and become breeding grounds for radical movements.
In postwar Europe, conservative parties were the principal supporters of welfare-state policies in order to counter efforts by socialists and communists to abolish capitalism altogether. The welfare state was devised to shave off the rough edges of capitalism and make it sustainable. Indeed, the conservative icon Winston Churchill was among the founders of the British welfare state.
American conservatives, being far more libertarian than their continental counterparts, reject the welfare state for both moral and efficiency reasons. It creates unhappiness, they believe, and inevitably becomes bloated, undermining incentives and economic growth.
One problem with this conservative view is its lack of an empirical foundation. Research by Peter H. Lindert of the University of California, Davis, shows clearly that the welfare state is not incompatible with growth while providing a superior quality of life to many of those left to sink or swim in America.
In a new paper for the New America Foundation, Professor Lindert summarizes his findings. He points out that there are huge efficiencies in providing pensions and health care publicly rather than privately. A main reason is that in a properly run welfare state, benefits are nearly universal, which eliminates vast amounts of administrative overhead necessary to decide who is entitled to benefits and who isn’t, as is the case in America, and eliminates the disincentives to work resulting from benefit phase-outs. ...
All-natural domesticity has adherents on both sides of the political spectrum.
The current cultural mania for DIY domesticity—backyard chickens, urban knitting circles, the rise of homeschooling, the sudden ubiquity of homemade jam—shows no sign of abating. Across the country, progressives are embracing home and hearth with new vigor under the guise of environmental sustainability, anti-consumerism, and better health.
The movement has made for some very odd attitudes, especially when it comes to gender. The terms "liberal" and "conservative" barely seem to apply. The new progressive morality about food sometimes feels as retro and conservative as anything dreamed up during the 1950s. In many well-educated, well-heeled quarters, what you cook determines your worth as a mother (Is it organic? Local? BPA-free?), laziness in the kitchen is understood to doom your children to lives of obesity and menial labor, and the very idea of convenience is slatternly and shameful. In this culture, we have Berkeley heroes like Michael Pollan writing scoldingly about how feminism killed home cooking. Michelle Obama, every Democrat's favorite organic gardener, has been criticized for saying she doesn't like to cook. And not by Fox News, but by food writer and noted latte-apologist Amanda Hesser in the New York Times....
... It's hard to know what to make of all this. Crunchy progressives are arguing that quitting your job to become a homemaker is a radical feminist act, far-right evangelicals are talking about "women's empowerment" via Etsy, lefty liberal writers are excoriating the First Lady for hating to cook, and dyed-in-the-wool conservatives are giving birth in their bathtubs with midwives and self-hypnosis tapes.
Both sides of the political spectrum turn to domesticity for many of the same reasons: distrust in government and institutions from the EPA to the public schools to hospital maternity wards, worries about the safety of the food supply, disappointment with the working world, the desire to connect with a simpler, less consumerist way of life.
The fact that domesticity is so appealing speaks to the failure of these systems. Until these things are fixed, I predict we'll see an increasing number of people from all parts of the political spectrum deciding to go the DIY route with their food, their homes, their children. And yes, this will mean more progressive people opting for lifestyles that seem uncomfortably retro. But maybe too we'll see Rush Limbaugh at the farmer's market.