It had never been anticipated that the great powers at the end of World War II would have no community of interest

Thursday, December 17th, 2020

After the Chinese intervened in Korea in November 1950, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), Truman affirmed that the atom bomb remained an option:

Above all else, the world wished to avoid general war, and atomic war in particular.

[...]

For the first time the U.N. cloak that the United States Government had so expeditiously woven for its action in Korea became not a support, but a hindrance.

[...]

With the entry of Red China into the fighting, the sharp U.S. setback in the north, and the prospect of an enlarged war yawning ominously, the nations composing the U.N. suddenly became restive. American leadership, unfortunately, had lost a great deal of its prestige on the battlefield.

[...]

The United Nations had been envisioned — however it was sold to the peoples of the world — not as a parliament of earth but as a controlling body on the question of peace and war. Real power, through the institution of the veto, remained where it was in reality, in the hands of the great powers: America, Britain, China, the Soviet Union. The problem, as well as the tragedy of the United Nations organization, was that it had never been anticipated that the great powers at the end of World War II would have no community of interest.

The first U.N. action utilizing force was, in essence, against itself, for the Soviet Union, sponsor of North Korea, continued in membership. Only the fact that the U.S.S.R. was absent in June 1950 permitted the Security Council to take effective action.

[...]

When President Truman made the decision to intervene in Korea — with general support — Dean Acheson said to him that the decision “might not always be so popular as it seemed at the moment.”

Secretary of State Acheson, a much-maligned man, was soon proved to be a prophet, though his status resembled that of most prophets as far as honor in his own land was concerned. Acheson, always intensely anti-Communist, had always to be intensely practical. In the months following Korea, any American Secretary of State in addition to other qualifications needed the abilities of a door-to-door salesman of insurance. Acheson, an aristocrat, a brilliant mind, and a practical man, could never be an effective salesman of policy.

Making hiring more ethnically biased was, of course, the point of Luevano

Wednesday, December 16th, 2020

One of the more evil things an outgoing administration can do, Steve Sailer notes, is to intentionally forfeit in court against what ought to be a nuisance lawsuit:

For example, its last day in office in January 1981, the Carter administration did long term damage to the U.S. government by abolishing the venerable civil service examination for hiring federal bureaucrats. The pretext was a consent decree throwing the derisory Luevano suit against the Carter Administration that had been rigged up by Carter’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and its allies on the left.

Ironically, civil service exams to reform the spoils system were one of the great causes of 19th century progressives. When President James Garfield was assassinated by a frustrated office-seeker in 1881, public opinion veered decisively toward awarding federal jobs by competitive examination.

During the 1920s, federal testing for job seekers became scientific. By the late 1970s, the federal government had a superb test, the Professional and Administrative Career Examination, which had been validated for 118 different positions.

Of course, blacks and Hispanics did less well on this test than whites and Asians. Therefore the EEOC tacitly sponsored a lawsuit and filed it under the name of a Mexican-American plaintiff who had failed the test, Angel Luevano.

For two years the Carter administration quietly conspired with liberal public interest law firms, the purported opponents in the suit. And as it was packing up, the Carter Justice Department signed a consent decree, approved by a picked judge, junking the civil service examination.

[...]

The outgoing Carter Justice officials declared that no exam could replace PACE until a valid one without adverse impact on blacks and Hispanics could be devised. In the 34 years since, this has proven impossible. So, ever since, most federal jobs have been awarded by various temporary makeshift methods involving high degrees of subjectivity. (Making hiring more ethnically biased was, of course, the point of Luevano.)

Here are three ways that education funding might look different a decade from now

Sunday, December 6th, 2020

The predominant funding model for K-12 education is based on seat time, or how many students are physically present in a classroom in a traditional school year:

The pandemic has disrupted nearly everything about K-12, including who is in a school building. It has also shown that learning can take place virtually, or in small groups, not just in a classroom for nine months straight.

[...]

Overall, K-12 spending in the U.S. was $739 billion in 2016-17, or $14,439 per student, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Most K-12 schools in the U.S. rely on local property tax for roughly half of their revenue, a legacy of the days when public schools were community institutions funded by donations.

Over time, state funding has become a bigger piece of the pie, driven partly by judges who found that local funding unfairly benefits students in wealthy areas and penalizes students in poor ones. Per-pupil funding still varies widely depending on the wealth of the community where a school is located.

[...]

Here are three ways that education funding might look different a decade from now.

One model allots money based on a student’s individual needs, with schools getting paid more for kids from poor areas or those who are struggling to meet proficiency standards, as opposed to equal amounts for each child.

[...]

A “learner-validated” model distributes funding based on what the student learns, as they master different skills or meet completion requirements. It also means that schools have an incentive to improve their teaching, because schools get paid more as learners meet benchmarks.

[...]

There will likely be a mix of online and in-person learning models that continue after the crisis is over, funded by tax revenue, offset by tax breaks to parents or supported by public and private grants.

Michael Strong has explained how to give your child an expensive private education for less than $3,000 per year — which is quite a bit less than $14,439.

The kinds of gun control measures that poll well are not the kind of thing that would significantly move the needle in terms of US gun deaths

Friday, December 4th, 2020

Democrats were wise, Matthew Yglesias notes, to have abandoned gun control as an issue between John Kerry’s defeat and Barack Obama’s re-election:

Back a bit over a decade ago when I worked at the Center for American Progress there were certain issues CAP didn’t really work on. Some of that was just a lack of funding or staff interest but there was no rule against trying to go get the funding if you were interested. The two big exceptions to that were trade, which was seen as too divisive in the Democratic Party, and guns, where the feeling was that post-2004 Democrats had decided that this was not an issue worth losing votes over.

That analysis had a few parts to it:

  1. Even gun regulation measures that poll well did not seem to really motivate voters while opposition to gun regulations was clearly motivating.
  2. The kinds of gun control measures that poll well are not the kind of thing that would significantly move the needle in terms of US gun deaths — the high-profile mass shootings that spark these conversations are statistically rare and generally don’t involve shooters who would’ve flunked universal background checks.
  3. The pro-gun forces are advantaged by the geography of the US Senate, so the outlook for federal action on even popular-but-ineffective measures is bad.

Related to (1), most progressives themselves did not think this was a particularly important issue compared to universal health care, climate change, immigration reform, and abortion rights. Nor did they consider it as urgent as fiscal stimulus and financial regulation.

In summary, it did not make sense to risk losing votes over measures that were unlikely to be adopted and unlikely to make a huge difference even if they were adopted.

[...]

Then came Sandy Hook, which was horrifying and happened to arrive at the very peak of liberal hubris about cultural issues right in the wake of Obama’s win. Progressives re-engaged with the issue, and Pat Toomey (a conservative Republican from a state Obama won) and Joe Manchin (one of the vocal pro-gun Democrats) wrote a bill that while not particularly consequential would, if it passed, have signaled a breaking of the pro-gun consensus in Washington.

It was a calculated risk and it didn’t pay off. The Manchin-Toomey bill failed, and all four of the elements of the circa 2008 consensus turned out to still be true.

Given that reality, it makes sense for people who care passionately about other issues to try to swim back to that old approach.

[...]

Here’s the deal: There are about 40,000 firearms deaths per year in the United States and if you could make them go away that would be great.

But a majority of those deaths are suicides. And the homicides are mostly committed by normal, inexpensive easily concealed handguns, not by scary assault weapons. Where do the guns come from? In a 2016 report for the Bureau of Justice Statistics, Mariel Alper and Lauren Glaze look at a survey of prison inmates and found that 21 percent of all federal and state prisoners said they had a firearm when they committed the offense for which they were serving time in prison. Of those incarcerated gun owners, just “seven percent had purchased it under their own name from a licensed firearm dealer.”

The largest share (43 percent) said they bought the gun on the black market. Another 25 percent say they got it from family or friends.

None of this is to deny that gun control laws could drastically reduce the incidence of firearms death. You might think that potential suicides would just substitute some other means of killing themselves, but research does not bare that out. If fewer guns were around, then fewer people would kill themselves. By the same token, you definitely could drain the swamp of illegally circulating firearms. But the way you would accomplish these things would be by drastically reducing the number of legally owned guns around. Stricter background checks for new purchases just aren’t going to significantly change the situation.

The United Kingdom has drastically fewer gun assaults than we do and that has a lot of benefits. Not only are innocent lives saved, but it allows their police to operate largely unarmed which would greatly ameliorate a tangled nexus of American social problems around racism and police use of force. But the UK didn’t get there with really rigorous background checks, it got there by making civilian ownership of guns mostly illegal.

What’s more: Gun enthusiasts are aware of this. So when progressives talk about the tragedy of gun deaths in America, it doesn’t matter if their actual proposal is a very mild tweak to background checks. When you define “the problem” as gun deaths, you are pushing toward a drastic solution that gun hobbyists don’t want, and they are highly motivated to vote against you.

Social scientific works can be a trove of politically incorrect data

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2020

Many conservatives credulously believe progressives’ claims that the social sciences vindicate liberal ideology, Steve Sailer says, but social scientific works can be a trove of politically incorrect data:

Here are some striking facts gleaned from [A Peculiar Indifference: The Neglected Toll of Violence on Black America, by conventional liberal criminologist Elliott Currie of UC Irvine]:

Between 2000 and 2018…more than 162,000 black Americans lost their lives to violence…the population of a substantial midsize American city — say Jackson, Mississippi….

As Currie admits, the vast majority of black murder victims are unquestionably killed by other blacks. The criminologist offers a lengthy historical explanation of why that is still, in 2020, the fault of whites (as you no doubt would anticipate, FDR’s redlining plays a role), but the 21st-century empirical data in the book is eye-opening:

In the United States today, a young black man has fifteen times the chance of dying from violence as his white counterpart.

Why do murderous blacks and their victims skew so young? Among whites, “hardened criminals” tend to be considerably older than they are among blacks. Does the violence gap between the races decline with age? It’s an unanswered question whether the racial disparity in homicidal tendencies actually diminishes with increasing age, or whether blacks of criminal inclinations simply tend to wind up dead or in prison earlier than whites do.

Currie goes on:

What makes these disparities even more sobering is that the rates of violent death for white men in the United States are themselves quite high by comparison with those of men in other advanced industrial societies…. The current annual homicide death rate for non-Hispanic white men in the United States, at nearly four per 100,000, is more than five times the rate for all German men, and close to twenty times the rate for men in Japan.

Contrary to the usual assumptions that racial gaps are driven by white bigotry, they tend to be smallest in Southern and old Wild West states, and largest where whites are best-behaved, such as in North-Central blue states:

In the state of Illinois, for instance, the homicide death rate for young African-American men (ages fifteen to twenty-nine) has averaged 143 per 100,000 over the course of the twenty-first century, thirty-seven times the rate for white men the same age.

Surely, though, race is less important than sex when it comes to murder rates?

But so strong is the effect of race that a black woman has half again as much chance of dying by homicide as a white man…. Black women lose far more years of life to homicide than to diabetes—a notorious killer of African-American women.

Moreover, among male victims of domestic murders:

What may be more surprising, though, is that intimate partner violence also contributes to the excess risk faced by black men. Among the male victims…the racial imbalance was even more striking than among female ones: nearly half of the men who died in these incidents of intimate partner violence were black.

As Fakhrizadeh’s sedan stopped, at least five gunmen emerged and raked the car

Friday, November 27th, 2020

One of Iran’s top military nuclear scientists has been killed:

Details about the slaying remained slim in the hours after the attack, which happened in Absard, a village just east of the capital that is a retreat for the Iranian elite. Iranian state television said an old truck with explosives hidden under a load of wood blew up near a sedan carrying Fakhrizadeh.

As Fakhrizadeh’s sedan stopped, at least five gunmen emerged and raked the car with rapid fire, the semiofficial Tasnim news agency said.

Fakhrizadeh died at a hospital after doctors and paramedics couldn’t revive him. Others wounded included Fakhrizadeh’s bodyguards. Photos and video shared online showed a Nissan sedan with bullet holes in the windshield and blood pooled on the road.

While no one claimed responsibility for the attack, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif pointed the finger at Israel, calling the killing an act of “state terror.”

“Terrorists murdered an eminent Iranian scientist today. This cowardice — with serious indications of Israeli role — shows desperate warmongering of perpetrators,” Zarif wrote on Twitter.

Russia effectively served air superiority on a diplomatic silver platter to Azerbaijan and Turkey

Thursday, November 26th, 2020

Europe should look carefully at the military lessons of the recent Nagorno-Karabakh war;

The course of every war is influenced by the specific political circumstances that trigger it — and this war was no exception. Azerbaijan and Turkey were confident in the success of their offensive action, as Russia had from the onset of the war indicated that it had no intention of assisting the Armenians outside of their recognised borders. Russia also saw Azeri military pressure as a tool to weaken the Armenian prime minister, Nikol Pashinyan, who headed the 2018 revolution that removed the old regime. Azeri action would, moreover, be likely to lead Armenia accept previously negotiated “peace plans” that would strengthen Moscow’s geopolitical position. This adverse political situation directly translated into military disadvantages on the battlefield for the Armenians.

Knowing Moscow’s tacit acceptance of a military intervention, Turkey based several F-16 fighters in Azerbaijan in October 2020 as a general deterrent. These were later used to sweep the sky of any Armenian ground-attack aircraft that tried to engage in combat. For its part, Armenia had just received eight Su-30 interceptors from Russia this summer, but did not even try to use them to contest the Azeri drones and F-16. The main reason for this was that Russia wanted Armenia not to enter into a direct confrontation with Turkey proper, and so it kept its aircraft on the ground. Russia effectively served air superiority on a diplomatic silver platter to Azerbaijan and Turkey. This proved decisive.

Southern and Western politicians deployed federal state capitalism to do an end run around unsympathetic Yankee capitalists, not to advance toward socialism or social democracy

Sunday, November 22nd, 2020

Is the country more divided than ever before? The answer is no, Michael Lind explains:

The social and economic divides among white Northerners and white Southerners, Blacks and whites, Catholics and Protestants and Jews were much more intense in 1920 than they are today in 2020. What has happened is that the formerly unified, mostly Northern mainline Protestant American establishment has—perhaps temporarily—broken down, allowing the actual diversity of interests and opinions in the United States to be expressed rather than suppressed. If the emerging woke national establishment has its way, however, that diversity of viewpoints and values will soon be suppressed once again, in favor of an intolerant and exclusive doctrine that greatly resembles the old-time Social Gospel from which it is derived.

With the exceptions of Grover Cleveland and Woodrow Wilson, every American president between 1861 and 1933 was a Republican mainline Protestant from the North or Midwest. The Republican Party, still the Lincoln coalition of Northern industrialists and Yankee Protestants, dominated Congress in the same era. Industry and finance were in the hands of a small number of Northeastern financiers, many of them old-stock Northeastern Protestants like J.P. Morgan. While there were some important Jewish financiers, Jews along with Catholics were kept out of many snobbish Wall Street firms until well after World War II.

The New Deal revolution of the 1930s is badly misunderstood, both politically and culturally, when it is treated as a left-wing rebellion against right-wing capitalism. Fundamentally it represented the partial overthrow of Yankee Protestant hegemony in American society by a coalition of outsiders, chiefly provincial Southern and Western whites and European-American immigrants in the North, many of them Catholic.

The Democratic Party that dominated the United States between the 1930s and the 1980s had a few Yankee progressive members, but it was essentially the old Jacksonian alliance of white Southerners and non-British “white ethnics” in the North. If Harry Truman is understood correctly as a cultural Southerner from Missouri, then with one exception every Democratic president between Roosevelt and Obama was a white Southerner—Truman, Johnson, Carter, and Clinton. The one exception was John F. Kennedy, from the other wing of the Jacksonian anti-Yankee alliance of Southerners and Irish Americans. Meanwhile, the Solid South combined with the seniority system ensured that Southerners, many of them segregationists, dominated Congress and the Senate throughout the New Deal era.

Most New Deal Democratic politicians were not anti-capitalist or opposed to industry. They often represented socially conservative local business elites who resented the fact that Northern bankers often would only finance infrastructure projects in the South and West that locked those regions into their assigned roles as resource colonies for factories in the Midwest and Northeast.

To break this neocolonial pattern of Northeastern economic domination, New Deal Democrats used federal state capitalism to industrialize and modernize the Southern and Western periphery, by means of rural electrification cooperatives, the Tennessee Valley Authority and other hydropower projects, defense production plants assigned to the South and West during World War II, and the interstate highway system (a favorite project of FDR which was only enacted under Eisenhower). In short, Southern and Western politicians and their Northern white ethnic allies who dominated the federal government in the New Deal era deployed federal state capitalism to do an end run around unsympathetic Yankee capitalists, not to advance toward socialism or social democracy.

On life in the shadow of the boomers

Sunday, November 8th, 2020

In his 2017 book Fractured Republic: Renewing America’s Social Contract in the Age of Individualism, Yuval Levin maintains that 21st century Americans largely understand the last decades of the 20th century, and the first decades of the 21st, through the eyes of the baby-boomers:

Because they were born into a postwar economic expansion, they have been an exceptionally middle-class generation, targeted as consumers from birth. Producers and advertisers have flattered this generation for decades in an effort to shape their tastes and win their dollars. And the boomers’ economic power has only increased with time as they have grown older and wealthier. Today, baby boomers possess about half the consumer purchasing power of the American economy, and roughly three-quarters of all personal financial assets, although they are only about one-quarter of the population. All of this has also made the baby boomers an unusually self-aware generation. Bombarded from childhood with cultural messages about the promise and potential of their own cohort, they have conceived of themselves as a coherent group to a greater degree than any generation of Americans before them.

Since the middle of the twentieth century they have not only shaped the course of American life through their preferences and choices but also defined the nation’s self-understanding. Indeed, the baby boomers now utterly dominate our understanding of America’s postwar history, and in a very peculiar way. To see how, let us consider an average baby boomer: an American born in, say, 1950, who has spent his life comfortably in the broad middle class. This person experienced the 1950s as a child, and so remembers that era, through those innocent eyes, as a simple time of stability and wholesome values in which all things seemed possible.

By the mid-1960s, he was a teenager, and he recalls that time through a lens of youthful rebellion and growing cultural awareness—a period of idealism and promise. The music was great, the future was bright, but there were also great problems to tackle in the world, and he had the confidence of a teenager that his generation could do it right. In the 1970s, as a twenty-something entering the workforce and the adult world, he found that confidence shaken. Youthful idealism gave way to some cynicism about the potential for change, recreational drugs served more for distraction than inspiration, everything was unsettled, and the future seemed ominous and ambiguous. His recollection of that decade is drenched in cold sweat.

In the 1980s, in his thirties, he was settling down. His work likely fell into a manageable groove, he was building a family, and concerns about car loans, dentist bills, and the mortgage largely replaced an ambition to transform the world. This was the time when he first began to understand his parents, and he started to value stability, low taxes, and low crime. He looks back on that era as the onset of real adulthood. By the 1990s, in his forties, he was comfortable and confident, building wealth and stability. He worried that his kids were slackers and that the culture was corrupting them, and he began to be concerned about his own health and witness as fifty approached. But on the whole, our baby boomer enjoyed his forties—it was finally his generation’s chance to be in charge, and it looked to be working out.

As the twenty-first century dawned, our boomer turned fifty. He was still at the peak of his powers (and earnings), but he gradually began to peer over the hill toward old age. He started the decade with great confidence, but found it ultimately to be filled with unexpected dangers and unfamiliar forces. The world was becoming less and less his own, and it was hard to avoid the conclusion that he might be past his prime. He turned sixty-five in the middle of this decade, and in the midst of uncertainty and instability. Health and retirement now became prime concerns for him. The culture started to seem a little bewildering, and the economy seemed awfully insecure. He was not without hope. Indeed, in some respects, his outlook on the future has been improving a little is he contemplates retirement. He doesn’t exactly admire his children (that so-called “Generation X”), but they have exceeded his expectations, and his grandchildren (the youngest Millennials and those younger still) seem genuinely promising and special. As he contemplates their future, he does worry that they will be denied the extraordinary blend of circumstances that defined the world of his youth.

The economy, politics, and the culture just don’t work the way they used to, and frankly, it is difficult for him to imagine America two or three decades from now. He rebelled against the world he knew as a young man, but now it stands revealed to him as a paradise lost. How can it be regained? This portrait of changing attitudes is, of course, stylized for effect. But it offers the broad contours of how people tend to look at their world in different stages of life, and it shows how Americans (and, crucially, not just the boomers) tend to understand each of the past seven decades of our national life. This is no coincidence. We see our recent history through the boomers’ eyes. Were the 1950s really simple and wholesome? Were the 1960s really idealistic and rebellious? Were the 1970s aimless and anxious? Did we find our footing in the 1980s? Become comfortable and confident in the 1990s? Or more fearful and disoriented over the past decade and a half? As we shall see in the coming chapters, the answer in each case is not simply yes or no. But it is hard to deny that we all frequently view the postwar era in this way—through the lens of the boomer experience.

The boomers’ self-image casts a giant shadow over our politics, and it means we are inclined to look backward to find our prime. More liberal-leaning boomers miss the idealism of the flower of their youth, while more conservative ones, as might be expected, are more inclined to miss the stability and confidence of early middle age—so the Left yearns for the 1960s and the Right for the 1980s. But both are telling the same story: a boomer’s story of the America they have known. The trouble is that it is not only the boomers themselves who think this way about America, but all of us, especially in politics. We really have almost no self-understanding of our country in the years since World War II that is not in some fundamental way a baby-boomer narrative.

As T. Greer summarizes it:

Many of the associations we have with various decades (say, the fifties with innocence and social conformity, or the sixties with explosive youthful energy), says Levin, had more to do with the life-stage in which Boomer’s experienced these decades than anything objective about the decades themselves.

These were the men who screamed most shrilly

Thursday, November 5th, 2020

It was not until the Korean War was many months old, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), that new Army trainees began to live half their time in the field, and to undergo a third of their training by night:

Slowly, commanders then began to restore the old hard slap and dash that had characterized Grant’s men in Virginia, Pershing’s AEF, and Patton’s armored columns.

[...]

There had been the same arrogance in the march north that had characterized Braddock’s movement against the French and Indians, Dade’s demonstration against the Seminoles, and Custer’s ride to the Little Big Horn. And it was the same conditions of terrain, low cunning, and barbarian hardihood that brought all these forces to defeat by an intrinsically inferior enemy.

It was almost as hard for minds trained on the fields of Europe to adjust to Korea as it had been for British generals to learn to fight colonials — who threw the book of civilized warfare away.

But the most ironic thing, in those bitter days of December 1950, was that the commentators who cried havoc the loudest were the very men who had done most to change and destroy the old 1945 Army. These were the men who had shouted for the boys to be brought home, who had urged the troops to exert civil rights. They were the ones who had hinted that leaders trying to delay the frenetic demobilization, or the reform of the Army, were no better than the Fascists.

And these were the men who screamed most shrilly when some young Americans on the field of battle behaved more like citizens than like soldiers.

The lack of democracy under British rule was a key component of Hong Kong’s ascent

Wednesday, November 4th, 2020

Back in 2005, Bryan Caplan noted that Hong Kong has had the freest economy in the world and had since 1970, the earliest year covered by the Economic Freedom of the World data set:

Indeed, it’s higher now [in 2005] under the Communists than it was in 80’s! And it’s hard to deny that Hong Kong has been an economic miracle since World War II. So even though Hong Kong was not a democracy before the Communist takeover, it’s very tempting to believe that the people of Hong Kong would have voted to retain (if not initially adopt) the free-market policies they had.

[...]

But it turns out that Hong Kong’s support for laissez-faire is only skin-deep. As soon as you ask people their opinions about specific interventionist policies — all of which, note the authors, “have either not been performed by the government or performed only very light or rarely,” they show their true statist colors.

[...]

To be blunt, it looks like the lack of democracy under British rule was a key component of Hong Kong’s ascent. The policies worked wonders, but they never became democratically self-sustaining. In politics, people often resist policy change just because “things have always been this way,” even if the results were never very good. But free-market policies apparently labor under a greater political handicap. Even if “we’ve always left these things to the free market,” even if leaving things to the free market has worked in the past, it just isn’t enough to win over public opinion.

Countless market-oriented intellectuals idolize Hong Kong but I’ve never heard of, much less met, a Hong Kong libertarian. Google confirms my impression, returning no relevant hits for “Hong Kong libertarian.” I’d like to think, then, that Hong Kong’s problem was a shortage of libertarian intellectuals to transform freedom by default into freedom on principle. But sadly, I suspect that wouldn’t have been enough either.

Managers come from the same stultified society as the managed

Saturday, October 24th, 2020

Americans were once accustomed to solving problems themselves, T. Greer notes — less as rugged individuals than as rugged communitarians:

When a novel problem occurred, they would gather together with others affected, and would together take action to resolve the problem before them. This lived experience of jointly solving novel problems has largely disappeared from American life. Americans have spent several generations the subject of bureaucratic management, and are rarely given real responsibility for their own affairs. The “Karen” like impulse of contemporary life is to defer to experts; when a vexing problem disturbs, the default solution is an appeal to management. The problem with all this: managers come from the same stultified society as the managed. Once they attain power they realize they have no more experience building problem-solving institutions than the rest of us.

These are conditional virtues

Thursday, October 22nd, 2020

Bryan Caplan doesn’t expect policies to get too much worse:

The same psychological force that thwarted the masses’ wishes before 2012 continues to shield us. What is that force? For want of a better term, ADHD — Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Populist policy preferences go hand-in-hand with intellectual laziness and intellectual impatience. As a result, populist voters fail to hold their leaders’ feet to the proverbial fire — allowing wiser, elitist heads to prevail.

Take protectionism. Keeping imports out of our country is perennially popular. Never mind centuries of economics classes on the wonders of comparative advantage; the masses are convinced that cheap foreign products make us poorer. Given public opinion, then, it’s amazing that trade barriers are as low as they are. What’s particularly striking is that presidential candidates routinely make protectionist noises to curry favor with the masses. Once elected, however, they get convenient amnesia.

Why would vote-seeking politicians show so little follow-through? Because talking about foreign trade, titillating at first, gets old fast. And actually measuring the change in trade barriers bores the masses instantly. As a result, protectionist promises are cheap to break. The masses delight to hear politicians vow to get “tough on China,” but they don’t want to have to think about Chinese imports months after the election, much less monitor their leaders’ concrete efforts to cut China down to size.

[...]

Emotionally, I look down on the public’s ADHD. When I get an idea into my head, it stays there until someone (possibly myself) argues me out of it. I’m a puritan. Once convinced something is true, I tenaciously act on it. But I’m the first to admit that these are conditional virtues. If you’ve genuinely figured out the right thing to do, determination and follow-through are wonderful. Otherwise, though, they’re a menace.

Mankind can and should shape up across the board, but it won’t. I’ll bet on it. And since mankind won’t discover a passion for rationality anytime soon, we should be thankful its ADHD isn’t going away either.

Not every maverick is a new Galileo

Tuesday, October 20th, 2020

One of the hardest questions a science commentator faces, Matt Ridley says, is when to take a heretic seriously:

It’s tempting for established scientists to use arguments from authority to dismiss reasonable challenges, but not every maverick is a new Galileo. As the astronomer Carl Sagan once put it, “Too much openness and you accept every notion, idea and hypothesis—which is tantamount to knowing nothing. Too much skepticism—especially rejection of new ideas before they are adequately tested—and you’re not only unpleasantly grumpy, but also closed to the advance of science.” In other words, as some wit once put it, don’t be so open-minded that your brains fall out.

Peer review is supposed to be the device that guides us away from unreliable heretics. A scientific result is only reliable when reputable scholars have given it their approval. Dr. Yan’s report has not been peer reviewed. But in recent years, peer review’s reputation has been tarnished by a series of scandals. The Surgisphere study was peer reviewed, as was the study by Dr. Andrew Wakefield, hero of the anti-vaccine movement, claiming that the MMR vaccine (for measles, mumps and rubella) caused autism. Investigations show that peer review is often perfunctory rather than thorough; often exploited by chums to help each other; and frequently used by gatekeepers to exclude and extinguish legitimate minority scientific opinions in a field.

Herbert Ayres, an expert in operations research, summarized the problem well several decades ago: “As a referee of a paper that threatens to disrupt his life, [a professor] is in a conflict-of-interest position, pure and simple. Unless we’re convinced that he, we, and all our friends who referee have integrity in the upper fifth percentile of those who have so far qualified for sainthood, it is beyond naive to believe that censorship does not occur.” Rosalyn Yalow, winner of the Nobel Prize in medicine, was fond of displaying the letter she received in 1955 from the Journal of Clinical Investigation noting that the reviewers were “particularly emphatic in rejecting” her paper.

The health of science depends on tolerating, even encouraging, at least some disagreement. In practice, science is prevented from turning into religion not by asking scientists to challenge their own theories but by getting them to challenge each other, sometimes with gusto. Where science becomes political, as in climate change and Covid-19, this diversity of opinion is sometimes extinguished in the pursuit of a consensus to present to a politician or a press conference, and to deny the oxygen of publicity to cranks. This year has driven home as never before the message that there is no such thing as “the science”; there are different scientific views on how to suppress the virus.

No ambitious second-year ROTC cadet would have dared quote him seriously

Monday, October 19th, 2020

Half contemptuously, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), American military men spoke of the “elusive” Lin Piao and the “poet” Mao Tse-Tung:

Mao Tse-tung, Premier of China, had already revealed to the world how his Communist armies operated — how they flowed from place to place, fighting when fighting was profitable, biding their time when it was not. What Mao Tse-tung had written was instructive, and intensely practical for a war in Asia — but because the Chinese wrote in poetic language, not in the military terminology popular in the West, no ambitious second-year ROTC cadet would have dared quote him seriously.

After November 1950, many men would grudgingly learn that the thought behind words is more important than the phrases in which the thought is couched. The time would come when every leader in the world would read the writings of the Chinese Communists — for it was barely possible that the war they waged was not so anachronistic as Americans believed. Quite possibly, it was the pattern of all future land wars.

In November 1950, then, one army, in open array, loudly proclaiming its every move to the world, marched against a phantom foe. For the CCF, all that month, was a ghost; now you saw it, now you didn’t. It marched by night, under a foggy moon; it sideslipped into the mountains in front of the advancing U.N., and lurked, biding its time.

When he was ready, the “elusive” Lin Piao would let the Americans find him.