Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Understanding the Left

(Updated) This is an essay on politics. Some of my most valued readers have expressed they don't enjoy my posts on politics. Fair enough, I'll be back soon with commentary on monetary policy. See you later. 

This essay is part of a larger project from last fall, to understand what's going on with the Woke movement in the far left of American politics. This is an economic analysis -- I analyze behavior from incentives. I don't try to examine the content of ideology, but I watch its uses. I look for objectives and rules of the game that make sense of behavior. I think in terms of strategies and payoffs, in simple game-theory terms not moralistic terms. But the point of the essay is to understand a political movement. 

What about Trump? I hear this comment all the time, even when my posts don't have anything to do with Trump. As the essay explains, I think I have an insight here into what is going on with the left. What's going on with Trump is a different question. When I have insights about that, I'll write about it. Not everything has to be about Trump. 

More deeply, though, I see that Wokeism has permeated all the institutions of civil society, and is a rising force that will be around for a while. In my view, Trumpism consists largely of the tweets of one man, with very little institutional force, and I suspect Trumpism will be gone November 4 if current polls bear out. If not, in 4 years. The Republican Party will rebuild on other lines. Ross Douthat's "there will be no Trump Coup" expresses this view beautifully. Perhaps I'm wrong, but one does not have to cover everything in one essay. 

Really, the battle lines that are likely to matter for the next 4 years is the Woke millennials vs. the conservative democrats of the Woodstock generation. Understanding the left will be the task of all my moderate Democrat friends, which describes most of economics. This is dedicated to you, not to Trump supporters. 

Why now? I worked on this project for a good deal of last year, producing this essay in January. I hoped to come back to it and produce a longer and better piece, but that's not happening, and events and ideas are moving fast. So, until I get back to it in a few months, perhaps it has useful insights. I think I was early to the point, now common, to see in Wokeism a secular religion with political force, perhaps analogous to the reformation (let's not forget what a bloodbath that was) or the Russian Revolution. This essay was written before George Floyd, Antifa riots, and before the whole issue became tinged with race. Perhaps that is for the best too. 

This was a speech given for Mt Pelerin in January 2020, organized by John Taylor.  Original source and context here

With that preamble, here it is: 

******

Understanding the left. 

Comments for Mt Pelerin society meetings, “How to deal with the resurgence of socialism” January 2020, Hoover Intistution

John H. Cochrane

Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution

A new wave of government expansion is cresting. It poses a threat not just to our economic well being, but to our freedom — social, political and economic.

1. A will to power

Consider the economic agenda proposed by the Democratic presidential candidates:

  • A government takeover of health care. 
  • Taxpayer bailout of student loans. Necessarily, after that, government funded and administered college.
  • An immense industrial-planning and regulation effort in the name of climate. 
  • Government jobs for all. “Basic income” transfers on top of social programs.
  • Confiscatory wealth, income, estate and corporate taxation. 
  • Government and “stakeholder” control of corporate boards. 
  • Rent controls and subsidies. Expanded, politically-allocated “affordable” housing. 
  • Expanded regulation of wages, hiring and firing.
  • Extensive speech and content regulation on the internet. 

And this is the center of the movement, not its fringe that talks of banning air travel. Though the fringe becomes the center quickly here.

Free-market economists, the few of us who remain, respond in the usual way. “I share your empathy, but consider all the disincentives and unintended consequences will doom these projects now, just as they have a hundred times before, and end up hurting the people we  want to help. Here is a set of free-market reforms that will actually achieve our common goals…"

But why say this for the 1001th time? Nobody’s listening.  We’re making a big mistake: We are presuming a common goal to produce a free and prosperous society, and somehow this crowd missed the lessons of history and logic of how to achieve it. Let’s not be so patronizing. 

If their answers are so different, it must be that they have a different question in mind. What is the question to which all this is a sensible, inevitable answer? 

Ask that, and only one question makes sense. Power.  All these measures gives great power those who control the government. 

But what should happen, if those deplorables vote in a Trump junior who will then access this great power? We can’t have that, can we. The most important power is the power to stay in power, and these measures are ideally designed to that end too.

Stakeholders on corporate boards and a federal charter? The purpose is explicit: Power for those who run the government to tell large corporations who to hire, who to fire, what to make, what to buy, what to invest, how much to charge.  And power to demand those businesses’ political support.

What happens when you put billionaires, their lawyers and lobbyists, congresspeople, and the IRS together for a once-a-year discussion of just how hideously complex financial structures will be valued, and how many millions the billionaires will consequently fork over? The wealth tax is explicitly advocated as a device to tame the political power of billionaires. It will work wonders to that effect. Support those in power, keep your money. 

Why address climate with extensive regulations and government-run companies rather than a simple and much more effective carbon tax? Well, then those who run the government get to give out the jobs and contracts. Legal and regulatory woe already already befalls the business who does not support the effort. 

Regulating the internet? It’s just too obvious. He or she who can define and regulate “hate speech” and “fact check” political speech, has enormous power to win elections. 

Consider the associated political agenda

  • Stacking the Supreme Court. 
  • Eliminating the electoral college. 
  • Eliminating the filibuster. 
  • Detailed federal control of elections.
  • Even more government control of campaign finance.

Only grab and keep power, and shove it down their throats fast makes sense of that. 

2. The great awokening

The ideological side of this movement marshals the social, cultural, psychological, and political force of religious fanaticism. 

It starts with an all-encompassing narrative of sin, and guilt; of a vast conflict between good and evil people.

Western civilization is just a stew of systemic racism, sexism, colonialism, homophobia, and genocide. Our economy and political system are dominated by huge monopolies and billionaires, enriching themselves by squeezing the little people dry. Swarms of unemployed roam the land.

Armageddon is coming, in exactly 11 years. Climate is the world’s “greatest problem,” never mind war, pandemic, civilizational collapse or the mundane smoke and bacteria that kill thousands.  But speak not of nuclear power, genetically modified foods, carbon capture, geoengineering, or mild adaptation.  How should California bring the rains, or stop the fires? Of course, build a high speed train. Build no dam, clear no wood. That would not atone for our sins. 

Climate policy has been hopelessly captured by this power-hungry cult. And sadly, by tying climate policy to this extreme political agenda, the chance of actually fixing the climate is vastly reduced. 

The IPCC writes that as a scientific fact, climate projects must “increase gender and social inequality… [promote] sustainable development… [address] poverty eradication” and “reduce inequalities.” Science proclaims that “social justice and equity are core aspect… to limit global warming to 1.50ºc.” The Green New Deal offers the same on steroids.

A new “eco-authoritarian” or “coercive green new deal” movement takes apocalyptic propaganda to its logical conclusion. If indeed civilization is going to end in 11 years, we can’t sit around and wait for democracy to wake up. “Dissenters” must be “silenced” and those unwilling to go along “thrown overboard.” Congress must “coerce … powerful interests to fall into line.” These are quotes. 

But you can be redeemed from sin through professions of faith, and participation in the great religious war.

To gain and signal virtue, you must master an ever-changing menagerie of nonsense words, repeated until they gain meaning. Say no longer global warming, not even climate change, now say “climate catastrophe.” Say not poor, say “marginalized” and “underresourced” “community.” Say not homeless, say “unhoused.” Say not “minority,” you must now say “minoritized.” Nouns are now passive verbs, with mysterious hidden subjects. “Violence,” “trauma” and “racism” are thrown out like candies, trivializing centuries of suffering.

You can even buy indulgences — carbon offsets, that, by the way, do not actually offset any carbon. 

A politico-religious cult appeals to all the people in our secular society who once would have gone to do missionary work or taken religious orders. Now they are activists for “social change,” which means government power. A cult usefully demonizes opposition, cutting off civic, scientific, or scholarly debate, and justifying the grabbing and keeping of power in a democratic society. This is the force of the protestant reformation, of Soviet communism, of Islamic Jihad. 

This movement has taken over the institutions of our society. It pervades the schools and universities, nonprofits, the media, international organizations, and the Federal bureaucracy, what political scientists call the “elites.” Conservatives and libertarians are social outcasts, and know to keep silent. 

This movement still represents a minority of Americans. But small well-organized political cults have taken over countries in the past, especially when the people in charge of a society’s institutions have lost faith in their purpose. 

3. Partisanship and polarization

The danger is greater, I think, because our system of government is falling apart.

Our government was not designed as a pure democracy. It is designed as a republic, with rights and protections for electoral minorities. A 51% majority can not take power, shove anything down the opponent’s throats, and rewrite the election rules to stay in power. 

Why not more democracy? Because then the 49% will use any means to avoid losing. America must remain a country in which a politician, a party, an interest group, can afford to lose an election; surrender power, retreat, regroup and try again, but not be totally destroyed.

But we are moving fast towards winner-take-all democracy. The checks and balances, and informal norms, restraints, rules of behavior in our government that protect electoral minorities are steadily eroding.  

Why is it happening? Don’t blame twitter. It’s simple incentives. The expansion of Federal power, of executive and judicial power, the unintended consequences of “democratic” (small D) reforms, kick it off. Winning the game by breaking a norm pays more. 

Then, once each side starts breaking the rules, the other side loses trust that they should act with restraint, to preserve their rights when the tables turn. A tit-for-tat spiral follows. 

What do I mean by norms? Consider a few increasingly quaint rules of political etiquette that are quickly vanishing. 

  • Presidents should do not routinely use executive orders, regulations far beyond statutory authority, or dear colleague letters to advance a policy agenda. 
  • Trump’s twitter and eraser follow Obama’s phone and pen.
  • Presidents don’t declare national emergencies over small policy issues like tariffs and border wall funding. 

Tit will lead to tat. Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have already called for declaring climate a national emergency.  Then winning the presidency is worth breaking any norm to achieve.

  • We don’t decide major issues by one-vote margin, party-line votes, or by 5-4 Supreme Court cases.
  • Presidents get their nominees approved in most cases. Confirmation holds back from personal destruction. 

Supreme Court nominations have descended into madness. Why? The courts are deciding big policy and political issues. One justice and maybe you can shove it down their throats.

  • Impeachment is not a regular part of the political process. 

Be sure a Republican House will start impeachment investigations the minute President Warren is elected, and will start by subpoenaing every record of her life to try to embarrass her.  Impeachment will spread to the supreme court after the next big decision.

  • You don’t wantonly use the criminal justice system or investigations to take down political opponents. 

As they will do unto you the minute they get the chance. I’ll cut short the list here, but we can easily name 20 more. 

Allying with an anti-democratic religious cult that demonizes opposition is a natural strategy in the winner-take-all game. 

4. What to do?

To get out of this we must reverse the winner-take-all rules of our political game. That’s a talk in itself, which I’ll leave for another day but for one thought: 

I sense that our forebears, while equally if not more acrimonious on policies, put a higher value on the survival of the system — with one immense, tragic exception. I also sense they thought it more fragile than we do. Perhaps Americans are too lulled in confidence that our constitutional order will survive, no matter how many norms are broken. Perhaps a greater fear that the whole thing might collapse might focus people to behave a bit. Perhaps, however, the woke cult’s disparagement of our whole society leads too many people not to think it worth saving. 

5. Conclusion

Our session is titled “how to deal with socialism,” My talk has mostly been about how to understand the contemporary left.  You have to understand something before dealing with it. 

Bottom line: This isn’t your grumpy uncle’s socialism, singing Pete Seeger union songs from the 1930s. It’s new and different.  What is the question to which its goals are an answer? Only one makes sense, a political will to grab, expand, and keep the power of the federal government. 

That political program is married to a new secular cult. That movement has already taken over most of the “elite” institutions of our country, and disarmed the rest, who now feel guilt rather than pride of and hope for the American project. 

Politicians have chosen partisanship, and chosen to ally with this jihadist cult, because the expansion of government power has made our system much more winner-take-all and shove-it-down-throats of electoral minorities. 

Fix that, I think, and we survive. Leave it in place, and they just might win and take all. 

This isn’t about 2020. It will be with us for decades.

******

Lots of people are writing on these points. 

Since writing this I found a lovely essay by Jonathan Rauch, "Rethinking Polarization" 

Isabella Burton writes of Wokeism

“It provides both an explanation for evil (an unjust society that transcends any one agentic individual and, more specifically, straight white men) as well as a language, symbol set, and collection of rituals (from checking one’s privilege to calling out someone else, to engaging in enlightened activism) with which to combat that evil force… The new world that will inevitably arise from the ashes of patriarchal, racist, homophobic, repressive, Christian society will be infinitely better, fairer, and more loving than what has come before.”

Bari Weiss has a lovely essay on Tablet making many of these and other points. 

Bradley Campbell makes the religion -- or rather, religious cult -- analogy well

I just learned from Dan Klein's letter objecting to re-education exercises at GMU the phrase "The long march through institutions" which describes the phenomenon.  

*******

Response update:

A millennial correspondent sent me the following fascinating response, with a well deserved slight rebuke.  There is more nuance and a great deal of internal debate on the left than I gave it credit for. 

I think we agree to a surprising degree on the fundamentals, especially the way that the expansion of executive and judicial authority is exacerbating partisan polarization and threatening the foundations of the constitutional system. But the biggest substantive disagreement I have with the essay is that I don't think it models the left coalition accurately, and in doing so I think it understates the opportunity for those who care about markets and civil liberties to find allies on the left.

When I look at the big internal fights in the contemporary left I see a robust debate over the limits of government power. Some examples:

 - Criminal justice: The left mostly agrees [with libertarians, as well as among themselves] that Black Americans face unfair treatment by police, courts, and prisons [and schools, in our previous correspondence]. Biden thinks the solution is to put more money into the system for training and oversight. More radical groups want to defund police and prisons entirely. [In our previous correspondence I pointed to libertarians such as Alex Tabarrok arguing how over-policed we are. We don't need cops with guns to give out traffic tickets.]  

- The role of the Democratic party: Electoral groups like the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) think that the best way to pull the country left is to run for office and govern as Democrats. Grassroots activists think that the Democratic party is captured by corporate interests and that the only way to make change is through direct action like community organizing and distributing mutual aid.

- Housing and land use: Scott Wiener, Democratic State Senator from San Francisco, has drafted four major bills to deregulate home building and legalize apartments in California. DSA San Francisco recently endorsed his challenger because they want more public housing instead.

 Maybe I'm being naive, but I've seen libertarian-leaning groups like Niskanen and YIMBY have a lot of success at working with the left's own skepticism of government these past few years, so I don't understand the panicked tone of the essay. To be "woke" in America is to believe that racism and sexism are built into the systems that govern us, and that these systems have more influence than the prejudice of individuals. Whether or not you agree with this belief, you should note that those of us who accept it also accept by definition that the government can do harm. [In previous correspondence, I had pointed to teachers unions, and what they do to low income and minority education as an instance of "systemic racism."] 

 I see a lot of fear coming from conservatives in tech, media, and the academy who are concerned about their right to talk about politics without facing retribution from their employers. I think this concern is reasonable, but here again I would urge us to find common ground, because leftist speech is also policed by these same institutions. Some leftists don't grasp the danger yet, but describing them as "jihadists" or "a cult" isn't going to convince them. An engagement with the fault lines in their coalition and a willingness to articulate shared values just might.

*****

As suggested by Kurt here is a golden paragraph by Chris Ball in the comments: 

I've been wondering if a good response to "systemic racism" which seems to mean that even if the people aren't as racist as in the past, the system they built is. I (and I think "we") agree actually: yes, the entire architecture from subsidized housing to no school choice to minimum wages TOTALLY stacks the cards against any minority and as we teach in principles of micro, we can show that price controls open the door for those remaining racists to act racist because you need side payments and/or a non-monetary basis for allocation. So, again, I keep thinking let's not say the same thing for the 1,001st time. Let's listen, push THEM to dig deeper and follow some of their criticism to logical conclusions, then discuss alternative ideas there. I think we might, if there's any hope, win some hearts and minds of the people following the debate. Again, Trump's increased popularity with minority communities relative to that of past Republican candidates' gives me hope that when we show deep, specific solutions that rational people should prefer, they eventually do. It just takes awhile for them to hear through all the noise. 


37 comments:

  1. Admirable for its time of genesis. Naturally, I just skimmed, but will study presently.

    Description is apt, but why, why, why, and why now?

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  2. Well, as to what I have thought about the causes for this moronicity, look at the ideas of the Frankfurt School and the French equivalent. These ideas spread like wildfire among Departments of English and Sociology, and even spawned further Departments.It's been a long march, from before 1968.

    Were there no monetary reward for the signal of a college education, or government promotion of it, the ilk could not survive for there would be no income for its progenitors.

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  3. If I may offer a simpler critique. We are headed towards France, a situation with choking high marginal tax rates such that we don't grow but we have a (measured) compressed wealth/income distribution. I personally would rather go back to the 70s with fake high marginal tax rates if it would quiet the liberals forever

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    1. Maybe not 70's. Economic performance was down a drain. The comparison to France further holds as political power is increasingly centralized in the executive.

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  4. I may be an exception in that I love when you write on politics but can't stand your economic ideas, so more of this, please!

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  5. Wokeism is the religion of hate.

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  6. I understand that you don’t want to explore the content of the ideology, but if you want to understand Wokeism, you have to understand the evolutionary origins of the egalitarian impulse. For that see Richard Wrangham, The Goodness Paradox. The basic language is that of game theory / economics: strategies to assure access to resources necessary for reproductive success. For an explicitly economics oriented analysis see Bowles & Gintis, A Cooperative Species: Human Reciprocity and its Evolution, esp Ch 5-8. A lot of the basic fault lines in contemporary politics emerge from simple models calibrated to the ancestral environment.

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  7. Dear John, I cant share your view that "hunger for power" is better answer than "I share your goals, but your solutions will make things worse". I would imagine that from your teaching you must know that a 90 minute session with 1st year undergraduate econs makes it clear that they all want to make the world better in ways that it will actually make it worse. And that's econ students, how could we expect any better from all those who did not study econ?

    Yes, wokism is scary. But saying that the people behind it are motivated by power misses the mark and if anything, makes things worse. Moreover, by making ourselves believe that it they just want power is going to make us fight in inefficient way.

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    1. To understand wokism you need to look at the revealed preference of the group.

      Not the stated preferences of the individuals.

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  8. I think this misses conflict within the left itself. There's a substantial wing that supports far-left economics but despises woke identity politics, preferring class analysis. They tend to see woke politics as little more than a tool cynically adopted by capital to suppress class struggle. It's the professional managerial class employing HR departments as softer, gentler Pinkertons.

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  9. Excellent. By the way, it is your blog, and you write about whatever you want. People are free to read. Do not excuse yourself from people who dislike it. Stop letting leftists control you.

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    1. Anonymous. Well said right up to "Stop letting leftists control you." I hardly think leftists control JHC. If anything he is the bane of their existence. Just ask Paul Krugman.

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  10. Consider the possibility that "power" (like money) is just a means to "status." There is a good argument that status is a primary motivation for a lot of human action. Ideally a system would accord status to those that help everyone to flourish. A well functioning market economy does a pretty good job of this, but not all aspects of *our* economy are well functioning and that leads people to pursue power as an alternative route to status.

    If you reduced cronyism (and other similar tendencies) would you reduce the demand for power as an alternative? What if you places a greater emphasis on social equality?

    I don't know the answer, but these possibilities seem worth considering.

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  11. My explanation for wokeism is that there is always a section of society who are too dumb to attract attention to themselves by doing anything CONSTRUCTIVE, so they resort to DESTRUCTION as an alternative. I.e. attacking your own culture, country and civilisation is bound to attraction to you, as is throwing bricks thru windows or spraying graffiti on public buildings.

    If you’ll pardon the expression, sh*tting on your own doorstep is bound to attraction to you. As for the woke refusal to respect facts, logic or empirical evidence, we should always remember that the switch from the religion dominated Middle Ages via the Ranaissance to a more science based outlook is always in danger of being reversed: for much of the population, facts and logic are far too much like hard work.

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  12. Another thought, how much of this is coming from the inequality topic? Woke, climate change, and racial Justice feel like talking points under the inequality umbrella.

    People also have some weird cognitive dissonance when it comes to inequality. some of the biggest backers are the Uber Rich themselves and flamboyant Hollywood stars. And people love tuning in to see the lifestyles of the rich but then decry rampant inequality in the same breath. The topic has also captured the attention of the economics profession and made celebrities out of some of the economists.

    I seriously ask this, would we be better off in the fake high 90% marginal tax rate regime of the seventies if it ends this topic? if none of that money was ever paid then it in theory didn't hurt growth.

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  13. Demonizing your opponents allows you to do anything you want to them, and still sleep the sleep of the just. The fundamental problem with the pursuit of power is that you can never have enough until you have it all; the odds that you will end up on the top of the pile are vanishingly small. Hopefully the woke masses will wake up to this fact before we turn into Venezuela.

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  14. I think our response has to start with listening honestly and as objectively to the left's criticism as possible. I laughed in 2016 when I first heard Bernie supporters explain they support socialism because "until now we've had socialism for the rich. We just want socialism for the poor too!". Last year when I heard AOC talk about "socialism for the rich" again it hit me. I shouldn't laugh. I should listen and find the kernal of agreement. A big piece of their understanding of that reflects their complaint about corporate welfare and government support of large companies. We agree that's a problem! We should seize that and discuss eliminating ALL corporate welfare - in agreement with AOC and the left - and then maybe they'd talk about solutions. At least then the alternative solutions might include a free-market solution and people learning about the topic might consider it. Currently they don't. A little effort can show most government solutions don't meet their ends if they take "end corp welfare" seriously.

    Likewise, lower and flatter taxes are a great solution to tax breaks for the rich which also is part of the "socialism for the rich" claim. We can discuss why progressive systems just benefit the rich (who hire accountants, etc) again over the poor (who can't). And so on. Then at least we are talking and people my calm enough to think about alternatives if we present them as possible solutions to the problems they claim to care about...

    One glimmer of hope for me was how Trump of all people gained minority votes largely by pushing school choice. (He mentions investment zones too and HBCs, but I get the feeling that their real agreement is on school choice and maybe law and order). Again, an issue for the classical liberals to win.

    I've been wondering if a good response to "systemic racism" which seems to mean that even if the people aren't as racist as in the past, the system they built is. I (and I think "we") agree actually: yes, the entire architecture from subsidized housing to no school choice to minimum wages TOTALLY stacks the cards against any minority and as we teach in principles of micro, we can show that price controls open the door for those remaining racists to act racist because you need side payments and/or a non-monetary basis for allocation. So, again, I keep thinking let's not say the same thing for the 1,001st time. Let's listen, push THEM to dig deeper and follow some of their criticism to logical conclusions, then discuss alternative ideas there. I think we might, if there's any hope, win some hearts and minds of the people following the debate. Again, Trump's increased popularity with minority communities relative to that of past Republican candidates' gives me hope that when we show deep, specific solutions that rational people should prefer, they eventually do. It just takes awhile for them to hear through all the noise. Thanks for your blog. Please keep it up. Sorry for my long comment.

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    1. Great insights Chris! I think John should elevate this quote from your last paragraph out of the comments and into its own post. A 'we have met the enemy and they is us' sort of thing:

      "I've been wondering if a good response to "systemic racism" which seems to mean that even if the people aren't as racist as in the past, the system they built is. I (and I think "we") agree actually: yes, the entire architecture from subsidized housing to no school choice to minimum wages TOTALLY stacks the cards against any minority and as we teach in principles of micro..."

      I think it needs how the Right has contributed historically, and it probably helps if the end focus is on poverty rather than race, even though race is the most visible effect, but it can lead to a common solution space.

      The first Minimum Wage laws were explicitly racist.
      Minimum Wages are a darling of the Left.
      Minimum wages keep the poor down.
      If the Left want to help the poor, then they can learn how they contribute. The same path applies on schools, teachers unions, and school choice, with the Left being a major contributor to poor learning environments.
      The Left will not listen to that as a start though so a similar historical thread on how the Right's historical actions have reinforced the system is the place to start. Showing how the Right have failed the poor can make the conversation more neutral and have a scaffold for eventually opening up the minds of the Left to see how they might be hurting the poor and hence how they are a key contributor to the thing they are calling 'systemic racism.'

      Build that structure out enough and maybe more people can sign on or at least have a more balanced frame for conversations.

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    2. Thanks Kurt. I'm just appreciative that he approved my comment and wouldn't presume for him to include it in an actual post! :-)

      I think your subsequent comments are right as well. And, "The Left will not listen to that as a start though" is sadly true. That's why I've been thinking about alternative approaches. A good professor listens to a student making faulty arguments, then starts with the kernels that seem right and Socratically guides them back or shows a solid fundamental flaw and helps them rebuild their thought from there. So, as an economics professor, I guess I have that sort of approach in mind. It's very likely naive though. Afterall, I'm not a politician and haven't won any grand political debates. But I think that was one of Friedman's talents as well. (one of his many, many talents for sure)

      On the policies that are "systemically racist", I defer to the experts. There are tons of interviews with Thomas Sowell where he lays out the case quite clearly that these policies have done real harm. Also, recently, I found and highly recommend the documentary also on youtube of Walter Williams: Suffer No Fools. I think, or at least hope, that the right people making the right arguments can reach the hearts of minds of people better.

      Thanks again.

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    3. The left isn't against corporate welfare. They are just want to choose who gets the welfare. Biden talks about massive government spending on green housing. He doesn't want to get his billionaire friends together to fund such a project that will create good paying jobs and community benefits. He wants a government money pit that will reward groups based on race, gender, political affiliation etc. An efficient allocation of resources isn't a goal, it is the enemy of their equitable distribution of resources.

      The left are against equality of opportunity, it doesn't guarantee equality of results. They don't want a market allocating resources they want the power to decide who wins and who loses.

      Kamal Harris attacked Trump because of toilet paper shortages. Trump let the market correct the problem. What would Senator Harris have done? Senate committee meetings to allocate resources to attack the problem. Dictates to the companies on how and where to distribute resources. Guidelines for minority contracts. Environmental impact studies. Allocations that are "fair" and non-discriminatory. Rationing to assure fair distributions. Price controls to assure fair pricing. Shortages allocated with lines. Subsidies for groups considered worthy. Blackmarkets. Trump is evil for letting markets work but the left's solution?

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  15. I believe Covid has allowed lots to come to the surface, not that a trend was not already underway. In short i see much of what elites and politicians tapping in to is related to economic issues. Back in Occupy wall street days i knew some one who was a senior exec at a small firm. He asked a female protester what her issue was. She explained her position and he then offered her an enter level job even though she had no finance experience for at a starting salary explaining the firm was small and could only pay "x", far below what MBA's etc getting at banks. This woman in her 30's accepted on the spot and joined the club.
    Lots contributing to dissatisfaction but have to think that for a great many current economic challenges at work for a great many

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  16. This reminds me of the infamous Lindsey Graham outburst towards the left at the Kavanaugh confirmation: "Boy y'all want power; god, I hope you never get it."

    If the Democrats win the Presidency and get a simple majority in both branches of Congress, it's quite likely they will do all of the radical actions Cochrane describes: pack the supreme court, alter the rules of the senate, and trigger large scale immigration to guarantee that the Republicans will never gain office in the future. And then all the radical changes to health, student loans, education, and housing will happen too. The Trump Administration has never done anything nearly this crazy or out of bounds.

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  17. I don’t really think wokeism is about power. Actually, wokeism and power don’t get along well. If you are right and wokeism is a religion, theocracies are a terrible system of government. Sooner than later everybody notices your “god” is pretty much useless when it comes to practical day to day issues.

    We already understand the psychological and sociological forces behind wokeism. They have been with us for a long time and very smart people have written about them:

    * After Anthony the Jassay's The State, we fully understand that states have an inevitable tendency to growth. No matter what the man in charge says, they organically tend to expand. Even under Reagan!

    * "Virtue signaling" is a powerful political force. Caplan did a wonderful job in "The Myth of the Rational Voter" explaining that people do not vote in its own interest (actually it will be impossible to connect any of the Trump's or Biden's positions in the last debate to any "own interest") but to “feel better” about themselves. You don't need power, you get what you want just by voting/saying it.

    * Wokeism system of virtue signaling is free to the signalers. The whole system is about behaviors “other people have to change” while I get all the rewards (both personally and socially) of feeling better with myself. This is something I can understand with system 1. Taking a look at the Copenhagen Consensus conclusions and understanding that even switching tomorrow to zero emissions would have no significant impact on the climate of the next 50 years with a large cost, definitely requires an intense use of our system 2 (and accepting our impotence against this problem runs again our very human action bias). Thanks to Kahneman, we know how hard it is using system 2 for a long period of time.

    You are right, wokeism is a religion. You can not fight religious believes with reason.

    * We also know “wokeism” is a luxury. You don’t find many people extremely worried about global warming in Havana or Caracas. I have never seen the analysis but tend to think there is a positive correlation between “wokeism prevalence” and GDP per capita, even within the USA (some more data analysis would be also welcome in this debate).

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  18. Regarding the solution. Our political systems (leaving apart some significant bloody and pauperizing setbacks) evolve to grant the individual more freedom.

    We got ride of kings and emperors and demote popes to a pure spiritual position (Europe learnt that lesson the hard way).

    Modern democracy was a wonderful idea following this path and its realization in the USA republic is, in fact, an outstanding achievement. But it was based on very shaky grounds:

    • Never was any “contract” between the individuals and the state. The “left” very often starts their speech by stating that it is time for a “new social contract”. Well, never was one to start with, and the fact that this has become a “catch phrase” proves it was a terrible “original sin” pretending there was “a contract” nobody never signed.

    • The “division of powers”, the very cornerstone of a Political Authority individuals could tolerate, is just impossible (as we can see in the nominations to the Supreme Court or in the behavior of Congress when controlled by the same party than the presidency or in all European democracies)

    • The Founding Fathers (in their infinite naivety) thought that this very same division of powers will prevent the Government from producing “excess legislation”. Our individual freedom and our right to pursue our own happiness was not supposed to be constraint by tens of thousands of new rules added every single year.

    • Constitutional limits (another “Holy Grail” of democracies) are a joke. Take a look at Amendment 9 and 10 together with article I, section 8 and have a great laugh.

    The system does not allow for any further improvement of the individual rights and can be easily highjacked by any group of “believers” that truly think society (and, in particular, the society that they envision) should be imposed on the individuals.

    Huemer brilliantly analyzed this problem and discuss some very interesting solutions in The Problem of Political Authority.

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  19. Four of the items in John's catalog of horrors -- government health care, bailout of student loans, rent controls, and wage and hiring laws -- are pretty much a fact of life in France and the Nordic countries. These have been installed without economic collapse or the end of personal freedom.

    Other items in John's catalog, like the Green New Deal and Jobs for Everyone, are unlikely to make it through even a Democratic Congress.

    The censorship from the "woke" forces is indeed repulsive, and you can count me in on that fight.

    See my blog NewLawsforAmerica.blogspot.com for more details if interested.

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  20. Interesting piece. I think your logic is sound, but you've vastly overestimated the scale of the problem.

    We're all victims of our experiences, and you live/work in the "wokeism" capital of the world (higher education/Northern California). It's not the same elsewhere. The easiest way to see this is in the results of the Democratic primaries (not a perfect indicator of where the left stands to be sure, but the best we've got) where progressives overall, and "woke" progressives specifically, got embarrassed.

    Moreover we've seen this movie before. There have been many far left and far right movements in U.S. history and they've all eventually fizzled. This is an underrated (feature? flaw?) of our entrenched two party system: it's really hard for even a large, well organized non-core movement to have staying power.

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  21. We've seen this movie before. The decline and fall of Rome proceeded in the same way. In the case of Rome it took a century or two.

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    1. I don't view the fall of Rome as a political/ideological failure, but will assume that it was for the moment because I think it actually supports my point.

      My 2nd argument above was that having just two entrenched parties makes it very hard for non-center political movements to have sustained success. Rome had 4 equivalents to what we'd call "parties" at the start of the decline. France had 3 to 5 party equivalents at various points over the course of their Revolutionary decade. Germany had 3 main parties when the Nazis seized power.

      The two paths fringe political groups use to seize power is military coup, or stepping into a power vacuum when other parties offset one another. It's hard to see wokeism succeeding along either of those lines in the U.S. today.

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  22. "An immense industrial-planning and regulation effort in the name of climate"

    You tend to generalize without basis to a whole group or political party. Once this is accepted, it makes your own arguments more plausible in the moment. I suggest you go to the current Democratic Presidential candidate's platform and back this statement. We do have to address these issues and if you can, prove to me that pure capitalism can effectively address it.

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    1. Where is this pure capitalism to which you refer?

      Delete
    2. Which are the ways to addressing this issue you refer to?

      The "immense industrial-planning and regulation effort in the name of climate" that is taking place doesn't include any effective way of addressing the problem.

      The objetive is, actually, addressing "capitalism" as can be clearly seen in your comment. As far as the real problem is concern all the messures and the investements discusssed has no significant effect. They served only to virtue signaling and respond to "mytical beliefs": the idea that by following an specific "ritual" the reality can be modified ... well, it can not, some of us moved from mythos to logos a long time ago.

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  23. The article found at https://www.wsj.com/articles/an-ex-liberal-reluctantly-supports-trump-11602875814?mod=opinion_lead_pos5 describes one man's odessy from liberal to Trump voter. His remarks are interesting in so much as he outlines a cogent argument for opposing the 'progressive' left-wing of the Democratic party and "wokeism".

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    1. Can't read it without subscribing to WSJ. I'm sure there are, to borrow a phrase, cogent arguments "on both sides." Glad to see that the entire Democratic party is not thrown out with the left-wing water.

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  24. Correct Thinking - Correct Answers.
    That Orwellian inspired motto could soon be on display on every campus in America. The re-education camps will assure that we all think correctly, and the correct answers will follow. Those who cannot correct their thinking will be canceled. The full meaning of the word canceled is yet to be determined.

    Systemic racism, what does it mean? We are told that we are all racists. Some overt, some subconsciously, but we are all racist. The evidence for this? We don’t have equality of results in our society. Our country was founded on the idea of equality of opportunity but the left rejects that as racist. If society does not produce equality of is racist.

    That is why the left and groups like BLM and the Social Democrats embrace Marxism and Socialism. They want to take property and rights from one group and give it to another group in a rearrangement that they consider fair. Until they achieve a rebalancing of property and rights that fit their vision of fair distribution, increasingly based on race, there can be no peace. Looting is justified as just another form of redistribution. Arson is the destruction of property allocated by a racist system.

    Our schools are racist if they don’t meet racial quotas. Exams are racist if you have disparate outcomes. Too many schools are failing and the solution is to make sure everyone has the same outcome.

    Oprah and Michelle call each other from oceanfront mansions to complain about white privilege. LeBron calls for defunding the police while he hires ten armed security guards to defend his home. Joe Biden earned over $15 million in the first two years after leaving office.

    Big Government is merging with Big Business to the detriment of society. The concentration of power in these sectors will only serve to deprive us of liberties. Big Tech is willing to surveil and censor the opposition. Big businesses finance their benefactors directly through supporting their election. Big Government leaders are rewarded with lucrative incomes after leaving government or increasingly during. Big Business is willing to reallocate monopoly profits to the interest groups that support their benefactors.

    We are turning into a dark alley in this country.

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  25. I would not underestimate the power of human irrationality. A number of large countries over the last 100 years chose that path, Germany, Russia, China, and Japan. There is nothing written in stone that we will not do that as well. The attacks on Trump have been on his legitimacy as an elected official and have come from the legislature in trying to impeach him on dubious grounds a few months ahead of an election, the judiciary with obscure judges issuing nationwide injunctions blocking policies that are within the competence of the executive branch, and the intelligence and law enforcement communities by spreading Kompromat, which turned out to be baseless. A large part of the media has seen their job as to undermine his presidency as have the universities. These are unusual times.

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  26. 1. Power

    Mitch McConnell

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  27. A sweeping essay with much to ponder, but this phrase caught my eye: "I analyze behavior from incentives."

    I gather this is what economists like to do: to analyze human activity from a black-box, behavioristic, stimulus-response point of view.

    As a counterpoint, a bit of the history of psychological science: the 'Behaviorist School' dominated the field for several decades, but was swept aside when its internal contradictions and limitations could no longer be denied. Thus, sixty years ago, at the dawn of the computer era, in a rapid paradigm shift behaviorism was replaced by cognitive psychology, which remains dominant to this day.

    Unlike behaviorism, cognitive psychology stresses that significant information processing occurs in the brain; between the stimulus and the response, much happens.

    There may be a lesson here for the understanding of human economic and political behavior: the black box approach ("just incentives") may be misleading and limiting.

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Comments are welcome. Keep it short, polite, and on topic.

Thanks to a few abusers I am now moderating comments. I welcome thoughtful disagreement. I will block comments with insulting or abusive language. I'm also blocking totally inane comments. Try to make some sense. I am much more likely to allow critical comments if you have the honesty and courage to use your real name.