Þe Discontents with Liberalism: A Check-in, &
BRIEFLY NOTED: For 2022-05-18 We
FIRST: The Discontents with Liberalism: A Check-in:
Another truly excellent podcast from Sean Illing: Rethinking the "End of History": Frank Fukuyama <https://player.fm/series/vox-conversations/rethinking-the-end-of-history>. They spend almost all of their time talking about Francis Fukuyama (2022): Liberalism & Its Discontents (Farrar, Straus and Giroux: 0374606714) <https://www.amazon.com/dp/0374606714/>:
Let me start with just a few quotes, and a little commentary:
Francis: Out-of-control resentments… a product of people… losing sight of the real stakes…. reasonably well-known conservative intellectual who had gone partly MAGA… said… “We're living… increasingly under a tyranny.” And I said… “What do you see as so tyrannical? And… he said… “There’s a group of nuns that are forced to distribute contraceptives in their medical practice…”. That’s not the worst violation of individual rights that I've encountered…
The kicker, of course, is that the “reasonably well-known conservative intellectual” does not know that what HHS asked the Little Sisters of the Poor to do was not distribute contraceptives but, rather, that, if the LHotP health insurance plan was not going to cover contraceptives, they write HHS a memo to that effect.
That is a very loud thud from the jackboots of totalitarianism indeed!
And it is the ignorance of the RW-KCI about what he was talking about that is painful.
But there is something more painful here: We all know, of course—Little Sisters of the Poor, and Reasonably Well-Known Conservative Intellectual as much as any of us—that the rhythm method and the missionary position produce on the order of four children per couple, given modern standards of nutrition and pre-natal care. Thus we all know that the papal prohibition on “artificial” means of birth control is going to fall. It may take 500 years, it may take 50. It may take 5 years or 5 months or 5 weeks. Indeed, it may take 5 days. But no matter when it falls, you must, sub specie æternatis, make answer to St. Peter when he asks you the question: “Why were you such a dipshit, making people’s family-planning more difficult just for the LULZ?” I do wonder what the LSofP and the RW-KCI are planning to say?
Francis: On the left... our institutions need to focus on the rights of individuals rather than those of groups. People are never fully defined by their group memberships and continue to exercise individual agency. It may be important to understand the ways they have been shaped by their group identities, but social respect should take account of the individual choices that they make as well. Group recognition threatens not to remediate but to harden group differences...
The problem here is that Frank is tiptoeing perilously close to “I don’t see color” or “I don’t see gender”. Well, David Autor and I are both pretty woke as economists go. And yet at our CUNY panel with Ann Harrison and Paul Krugman, both of us interrupted Ann’s opening statement, and neither of us interrupted Paul’s. (I have been hiding in fear from Ann Harrison since: rather hard to do, since she is now the dean of Berkeley’s business school.) “Wokeness” primarily involves recognizing how ethnic and gender hierarchies are woven into society, and trying to counteract them; secondarily, it is recognizing that democracy and discussion work because they pool good ideas, and so there is a strong positive benefit from having people with different experiences and thus different perspectives in the mix; and only tertiarily is it a claim that people have different rights and authorities simply by virtue of the color of their skin. (And where it does devolve into that, it tends when the rubber hits the road to be things like “white people really should not say ‘n——-’”, or “cross-burners like Charles Murray really shouldn’t be given more forums to spout their prejudices unbacked by good data analysis than they already have”; and I find it very hard to get worked up at those.) For reading on this, I recommend once again the excellent and wise John Scalzi: <https://whatever.scalzi.com/2012/05/15/straight-white-male-the-lowest-difficulty-setting-there-is/><https://whatever.scalzi.com/2022/05/18/straight-white-male-the-lowest-difficulty-setting-ten-years-on/> <>.
Francis: Successful liberal societies have their own culture and understanding of the good life, even if that vision may be thinner.... Prioritize public-spiritedness, tolerance, open-mindedness, and active engagement in public affairs.... They need to prize innovation, entrepreneurship, and risk-taking.… Actual, real existing liberal societies have been built on top of non-liberal foundations in which you have nations… cultures… language… shared history…. that give your life a certain thickness…. That creates a tension… sometimes those cultural foundations are exclusionary…. Enough of a culture that people… are in a common endeavor…. But… that… shared core has to be tolerant and accessible...
Now I had always thought we had that in America: That our dominant culture was that we were all Pilgrims, or descended from Pilgrims—that we were, at our core, a people that had come to this land from many different places on a journey in search of opportunity and freedom to make a free, prosperous country of ample and open opportunity that would serve the world as a City Upon a Hill. Thus we should work diligently, so that, in the words of my ancestor John Winthrop:
We shall find that the God of Israel is among us… [and] he shall make us a praise and glory, that men shall say of succeeding plantations: “the Lord make it like that of New England…”
And we should especially:
follow the Counsel of Micah, “to do Justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly with our God…”
We must be knit together in this work as one man, we must entertain each other in brotherly Affection, we must be willing to abridge our selves of our superfluities, for the supply of others necessities, we must uphold a familiar Commerce together in all meekness, gentleness, patience and liberality, we must delight in eache other, make others Conditions our own, rejoice together, mourn together, labour, and suffer together, always having before our eyes our Commission and Community in the work…
Thus we are all children of the Pilgrims—some by birth, and others by election and adoption. And that is (or ought to be) true no matter which particular group of Pilgrims come to this land you are referencing at the moment.
Now, today, Fox News and the Republican Party and the algorithms of the clickbait-seeking social media companies appear to have convinced a quarter of the population that that is not in fact who we are. And we have to get that back. And it will be hard. Let me drop in here an exchange between Sean Illing and Frank Fukuyama:
Sean Illing: You write… liberal societies… cannot survive if they are unable to establish a hierarchy of factual truth…created by elites of various sorts who act independently of those holding political power. The game is over, as far as I can tell, if you're right about that…
Francis: Disagree[ments] over policy… morphed into affective polarization…. When did opposition to rigorously tested vaccines become such an important issue that it's one of the fundamental causes of the political divide in this country?…. Modern technology has… made the debate even more open…. But… overwhelm[ing] everyone with more information than they… could make sense of... information... of poor quality, false, or at times deliberately weaponized.... The large internet platforms operate on a business model that prioritizes virality and sensationalism…. People... use their considerable cognitive skills… in... “motivated reasoning.”... The deliberative function of freedom of speech has been weakened... by excessive demands for transparency... [and the] different kinds of fantasy worlds made possible by the shift of our social interactions to online communications.… There are well-established techniques for determining factual information, techniques that have been used for years in court proceedings, professional journalism, and in the scientific community.... There are other necessary norms promoting civility and reasoned discourse that underpin democratic deliberation in a liberal society…. The biggest disappointment that I've felt in liberal democracy is that… many Americans could vote for somebody like Donald Trump…. That’s something that I worry about a lot…
But we still have three-quarters. of the population to build on.
I did not expect to learn that Fukuyama was, at his core, a late-1970s Jimmy Carter-Hubert Humphrey Democrat:
Francis: You… need to link liberalism with democracy… to do… redistribution… to mitigate… social and economic inequalities…. The most successful liberal societies… were the social democratic ones… after World War II… a real effort to create a welfare state… to try to be more inclusive… sharing the benefits of economic growth…. We need… [a] universal healthcare system and it’s… outrageous that we're the only… rich country that doesn't have one…
Sean Illing: The underlying legal and social structures are not egalitarian. They're not meritocratic. And that is part of the reason you felt compelled to write this book.… And it's one of the many reasons people are disenchanted with the system that we have today…
hoping to quiet Sean down by pointing out that we are moving, in the long arc of history, toward greater social justice (albeit “with all deliberate speed”) and that distributing economic growth equitably is a powerful and important accomplishment that is within our grasp. The problem, of course, is that neoliberalism does not do that. And neoliberalism stubbornly hangs on, in spite of Fukuyama’s pronouncements that it is in retreat.
And one more:
Francis: I can imagine a political moment will come when people will take up that challenge and then fix the institutions the way they did during the 1930s, after the Great Depression or as a direct result of the Great Depression…. Buried in liberal theory is a belief in human rationality that ultimately people will… listen to evidence… deliberate, and… the result… is going to be some socially productive conclusion…
While Frank was talking to Sean in the metaverse, I was having coffee with a long-time Berkeley worthy in meatspace. We reached the opposite conclusion: that the world had been saved from true catastrophe only by the skin of our teeth, because Herbert Hoover won the presidency in 1928 and hence Franklin Delano Roosevelt succeeded him by winning the election of 1932. And it pretty much had to be Roosevelt: elsewhere is the Great Depression swung politics to the right, either destructively or catastrophically, and the few left wing politicians able to take power during the Great Depression were unable to move the needle to deal with it (cf.: Leon Blum). “Fixing the institutions” looks like a great piece of good fortune. And I have not yet noted that the world today would be authoritarian—fascist or really-existing socialist—if not for the ultima ratio regum, and that would not have spoken for the liberal order had not Britain’s Labour Party chosen Churchill as the head of its wartime national unity government, had not Hitler attacked the Soviet Union while still at war with Britain, and had not Hitler declared war on the United States.
As I write in my forthcoming (September 6!) Slouching Towards Utopia <https://bit.ly/3pP3Krk>:
Why did the Great Depression not push the United States to the right, into reaction, or proto-fascism, or fascism, as it did in so many other countries, but instead to the left? My guess is that it was sheer luck—Herbert Hoover and the Republicans were in power when the Great Depression started, and they were thrown out of office in 1932. That Franklin Roosevelt was center-left rather than center-right, that the length of the Great Depression meant that institutions were shaped by it in a durable sense, and that the United States was the world’s rising superpower, and the only major power not crippled to some degree by World War II—all these factors made a huge difference. After World War II, the United States had the power and the will to shape the world outside the Iron Curtain. It did so. And that meant much of the world was to be reshaped in a New Deal rather than a reaction- ary or fascist mode…
Contrary to Fukuyama’s conclusion, the example of the 1930s makes me much less optimistic about prospects for a liberal-democratic future order, not more.
Asianometry: What Eating the Rich Did For Japan <https://www. youtube.com/watch?v=5_-Ac68FKG4>:
Very Briefly Noted:
Tom Nichols: Mark Esper’s Duty to Speak: ‘Mark Esper Reveals the Full Danger of Trump, Finally: He had a duty to speak up before his book deal… <https://newsletters.theatlantic.com/peacefield/627c43280a81280021a331ff/trump-esper-republicans-must-speak-up-democracy-constitution/>
Barry Ritholtz: The Rich Are Not Who We Think They Are: ‘MIt’s not the small number of well-known tech and shopping billionaires but instead more than 140,000 Americans who earn more than $1.58 million per year… [an] owner of a “regional business,” such as an “auto dealer” or a “beverage distributor”… <https://ritholtz.com/2022/05/10-tuesday-am-reads-381/>
Simon Kuper: Democracy Might Be in Crisis. But Autocracy Certainly Is <https://www.ft.com/content/9f5227ab-c362-4693-828c-d1a7adce0223>
Wikipedia: Jeffrey P. Weaver <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeffrey_P._Weaver>
Ian King: What Chip Stocks Can Tell Us About the Tech Selloff <https://www.bloomberg.com/news/newsletters/2022-05-17/what-chip-stocks-can-tell-us-about-the-tech-selloff?cmpid=BBD051722_TECH>
Matt Levine: Elon Musk Does Not Care About Spam Bots <https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2022-05-17/elon-musk-does-not-care-about-spam-bots>
Micah Sifry: Messaging Won’t Save Democrats; Community Might <https://micahsifry.medium.com/messaging-wont-save-democrats-community-might-7d802154b433>
Jeet Heer: Farewell to Midge Decter <https://www.thenation.com/article/culture/midge-decter-obituary-bigotry/>
Twitter & ‘Stack:
Paul Krugman: ‘We probably have underlying inflation of 3.5–4 percent…
Matt Yglesias: Solving Problems by Letting People Do Things: ‘The Ukrainian rule that requires surrogates to already be parents seems to me to have benefits…. As a nice bonus, of course, you’d be helping more families have kids…
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I share Paul's absolute bewilderment and complete him comprehension of why people say that this is like the late 1970s. It could become like the late 1970s—if we had more big supply shocks, and if people lost confidence in the federal reserves willingness to act. But we are still far, far away from that point:
Paul Krugman: ‘We probably have underlying inflation of 3.5–4 percent, with a higher headline rate reflecting probably temporary factors like supply chain disruptions and Ukraine fallout. That’s too high, but we don’t have spiraling inflation due to unanchored expectations. Consumer surveys suggest medium-term inflation expectations have remained fairly stable. So have near-term wage expectations, an indicator of underlying inflation running about a point below recent wage hikes. And the bond market seems to expect elevated inflation for the next year or so but more or less normal inflation after that. What story makes sense here? I’d say that we have a moderately overheated economy that the Fed should be and already is acting to cool off: interest rates relevant to real spending are way up. Plus stuff that is, yes, transitory…
My view is that the Wall Street bears do not understand how much the COVID plague has done to boost not just short- but long-term demand for semiconductor products:
Ian King: What Chip Stocks Can Tell Us About the Tech Selloff: ‘Chip companies can offer a kind of microcosm for Wall Street’s feelings…. This year, Nvidia Corp. is down 41%. Advanced Micro Devices Inc. has dropped 35%. And the Philadelphia Stock Exchange Semiconductor Index is down more than 25%…. Meanwhile, chipmakers still can’t keep up with demand. GlobalFoundries Inc. said it’s sold out for this year and 2023. That means that even though it’s expanding production, GlobalFoundries’ customers have already ordered as much as it can manufacture for the next 18 months. Of course, there’s a bear case too…. Just look at China… where first-quarter handset shipments fell 29% last quarter from the same period a year earlier…. Nvidia[’s]… stock has been savaged so far this year, but it’s also telling that this quarter analysts are mainly worried about one thing: If Nvidia will be able to get enough supply from its subcontractors to keep up with demand…
Matt Levine is the must-read for what is going on in finance and industry. The must-read. I think he is correct about Twitter's optimal strategy in dealing with Elon Musk: move ahead as if the deal is going to close on schedule, and if it does not drop musk from Twitter and sue him for specific performance, with the amount to be extracted in settlement depending on how the case goes and how rich Musk turns out to be. Negotation with a chaos monkey seems to me to be a fool’s game:
Matt Levine: Elon Musk Does Not Care About Spam Bots: ‘“If our Twitter bid succeeds,” he tweeted, “we will defeat the spam bots or die trying!” His Twitter bid succeeded…. Yesterday he announced that he does not want to buy Twitter because of the spam bots…. I think it is important to be clear here that Musk is lying. The spam bots are not why he is backing away from the deal…. What has happened?… Tesla Inc. stock… is down almost 30%…. So he is angling to reprice the deal for straightforward market reasons. But that is very clearly not allowed by the merger agreement that he signed: Public-company merger agreements allocate broad market risk to the buyer, and he can’t get out just because stocks went down…. What does Twitter get from signing a new merger agreement with him at, say, $42 per share? He has not lived up to any of his agreements with Twitter—the standstill, the non-disparagement clause of the merger agreement, apparently a nondisclosure agreement, the merger agreement itself—and he’s not going to live up to a repriced merger agreement unless he feels like it. An agreement with Elon Musk is worthless…. Twitter can try to hold him to the terms of his current deal, but that is also risky…. Twitter has no good options. The market thinks that the most likely outcome is that the deal gets done at a lower price, rewarding Musk for his bad faith…. Twitter’s best option is to do nothing: Let Musk tweet, ignore him, and continue acting as though everything is normal and the deal is going to close…. In that vein, this morning Twitter calmly filed the preliminary proxy statement for its deal with Musk…
Why is there no democratic party infrastructure? Why is there only a network of semi-grifter consultants sending me panicked fundraising emails of which they get an excessive cut?
Micah Sifry: Messaging Won’t Save Democrats; Community Might: ‘Lux and his colleagues found… populist economics: tax the rich, hammer corporations for price gouging and profiteering, bring jobs home, help small businesses against corporate monopolies are all themes that resonate and also offer an answer to voter concerns about rising inflation…. These voters are sick of “partisan bickering” and not receptive to political messages from either part…. This rings true to me. Politics as it is practiced today, in the form of messaging wars on television and online, is just too far from most people’s lives…. “Candidates and party committees should be spending time doing things like sponsoring community events like [Ohio Senator] Sherrod Brown’s ‘movie nights,’ which he does in the old movie theaters of Ohio’s mid-sized towns, where the theme is to build community spirit and togetherness. Or they could set up events that were community health clinics where people come in and get health care assistance that they couldn’t otherwise afford. Or Chautauqua style events, where musicians, community theater performers, poets, and community organizations spend a day in a community.” Even better, I’d add, instead of opening campaign offices for a few weeks, stocking them with fresh-faced volunteers from out of town, and then closing as soon as the election is over, Democrats could invest in year-round community centers like the union halls of old, where people gathered to socialize, have a beer and talk politics. Unfortunately, Lux is a rarity among his colleagues. I don’t think Democrats are likely to shift the tens of millions of dollars they now have slotted for expensive ad campaigns this fall into community fairs or mutual aid programs. They’re going to keep doing what they’ve always done and pray for a different result…
Men as creatures of extremely fragile egos loaded with neuroses who needed to be guided and steered—and feminism as destroying women’s ability to learn how to do that successfully. That was, I thought, the key to Midge Decter’s thought. Men’s business was to bring home the bacon so women could live their lives, focusing on what was important. And all men wanted in return for transferring massive amounts of resources was sex and affection. Hence meet-hubby-at-the-door-wearing-saran-wrap as the alternative to feminism, which Decter always saw as a hairy-legged bra-burning movement aimed at the pointless and stupid task of scoring ego points against men:
Jeet Heer: Farewell to Midge Decter: ‘Decter was… crucial… married… secular social conservatism (rooted in… revisionist Freudianism)… with… militarism and big business capitalism…. Decter was an odd person to be a voice of right-wing traditional family values, since she was a very successful career woman, and easy-going about sexual morality in her private life…. Treated as, in her words, “a kind of honorary son” by her family because she was always ambitious and not willing to conform to the expectations of being an obedient daughter and wife… she never felt the need for feminism. Indeed, feminism became the main target of her major books The Liberated Woman and Other Americans (1970), The New Chasity and Other Arguments Against Women’s Liberation (1972), and Liberal Parents, Radical Children (1975)…. Her ridiculous book Rumsfeld: A Personal Portrait (2003). In that book, she celebrates the “manliness” of Donald Rumsfeld, at one point swooning, “He works standing up at a tall writing table, as if energy, or perhaps determination, might begin to leak away from too much sitting down”…
How do you guard people’s interests properly with respect to the most emotion-laden and self-changing activities a woman can engage in? Matt Yglesias points to Ukraine as a good example:
Matt Yglesias: Solving Problems by Letting People Do Things: ‘The Ukrainian rule that requires surrogates to already be parents seems to me to have benefits. The women portrayed in Dominus’s article are out of school, they have families and jobs, and they have relatively mature and plausible ideas about what they want to do with their money. So Ukraine strikes me as a positive example of legalizing international surrogacy but with some amount of restrictiveness. Other ideas countries might want to consider are a minimum age rule, a low cap on the number of times a person is allowed to serve as a surrogate, and/or a requirement to hit some educational attainment threshold —the idea in all these cases being that you could capture some of the economic benefits of allowing paid surrogacy without turning it into a career in a way that would derail larger development goals. As a nice bonus, of course, you’d be helping more families have kids…