The Fractured Republic and the Big Sort
Speaking of worlds and cultures, I just finished reading Yuval Levin's new book, The Fractured Republic: Renewing America’s Social Contract in the Age of Individualism. I was looking forward to it, because I really enjoyed his previous book, The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left. That's a book I never got around to blogging about, despite the fact that it does an excellent job of tracing the genealogy of left and right, all the way down to the roots.
This will probably be a series of posts. This first one is just from memory, so I'll no doubt pass over a lot of detail and not do the book justice. This is just my first overall stream-of-consciousness impression, based upon what I remember.
The Great Debate really shows how left and right inhabit different worldspaces, with very different assumptions about reality and about human nature, and therefore about the role of the state.
Politics, of course, applies to human beings and only human beings. Therefore, if you get your anthropology wrong, then your political philosophy will be even more wrong. This hardly stops people from trying to apply the defective model, but this only causes more problems. It's analogous to running a zoo but knowing nothing about zoology.
For the left, this results in an inevitable vicious cycle of 1) misunderstanding human nature, 2) trying to fix it with the wrong approach, 3) which results in further human wreckage, and 4) which then requires the state to remedy. This formula is a guarantee that the state will always grow in power over the citizen.
Note that, among other things, our founders were explicitly trying to extricate man from this cycle by placing sharp limits on the scope of state power. This was rooted in a specific conception of human nature, whereby the state is not permitted to violate our natural, God-given rights; rather, it is there to respect and protect them -- especially from itself!
Anyway, the first half of The Fractured Republic does an excellent job of diagnosing our historical situation. However, I found that the second half, which proposes the remedies, is way too optimistic, and a little naive -- which is something a conservative should never be.
One reason it is naive is that it ignores the scientific Elephant in the Room, which is to say, the heritability of IQ, more on which below. What I would say is that if the science of IQ is correct, then none of the current solutions proposed by the left or right will help. Indeed, they will only make matters worse. (Remember what was said above about getting your anthropology wrong: if you believe intelligence isn't limited by the genes, then you are in for a rude awakening).
For Levin, both the left and right are blinded by nostalgia. In short, they assume as a norm economic circumstances that were quite unique. Leftists such as Paul Krugman hearken back to the 1950s, when we had a greatly expanding economy, full employment, much more "income equality," and a marginal tax rate of 90%.
But that period of time was hardly normative, and certainly not repeatable. For one thing, in the wake of World War II we were Masters of the Universe, with no competition anywhere in the world. We were by far the largest manufacturer and consumer, to such an extent that it would have taken a real genius like Obama to mess things up.
A key point is that we essentially controlled the global economy from top to bottom. As such, there were plentiful jobs available for everyone along the IQ spectrum, from low to middle to high. And with no global competition for labor, everyone was relatively well paid.
Levin points out that back then, we were a labor-driven economy, such that business could afford the economic inefficiency of overpaying their employees. But in the meantime we have become a much more efficient consumer-driven economy, with people expecting high quality at the lowest possible price. In order to achieve that, something has to give, i.e., high wages for low-value work.
Precisely because that unusual situation was taken as normative, liberals assumed it would continue forever. Thus the vast expansion of government in the mid 1960s, with all the Great Society programs that continue haunting us to this day. It didn't take long for the economy to crash in the 1970s, only to be resuscitated by Reaganomics.
Thus, conservatives tend to hearken back to the 1980s as normative, but there too we were in a specific historical situation that cannot be repeated. For example, Reagan brought the marginal tax rate down from 70% to 28%, whereas now the parties fight over a mere percentage or two. I don't see any future tax cut that will unleash the economy as the Reagan tax cuts did.
One other major change has been the relentless globalization of the economy. Oddly, this is something lamented by left and right -- or at least Sanders and Trump -- but it is not going away, and there is no way to reverse the trend. Again, because consumers expect high quality at low prices, they are not going to buy an American made phone for $2,000 when they can get a Chinese-made one for $500.
Yes, through tariffs we can force Americans to purchase the more expensive phones. But you can't fool Mother Economics, such that it accomplishes nothing to protect mid- or low-wage jobs if everything costs more.
Another important point made by Levin is that the middle class hasn't so much "disappeared" as moved up. In short, we now have a bifurcated economy with a crater in the middle. Why the middle? Well, those are the jobs that are most ripe for exportation due to the consumer-driven demand for economic efficiency. But you can't export low-wage service jobs such as janitor, housekeeper, gardener, etc. Those jobs can't be done from China, so we will always have them.
Increasing the minimum wage is simply the left's acknowledgment that they have no idea how to foster economic conditions that will create high-wage jobs, so they will simply outlaw low-wage ones. Which inevitably leads to higher prices and fewer jobs. But more Democrat voters, and that's the important point.
This leads directly to the problem of the Big Sort. Recall that in the 1950s and 196s there was a decent paying job for most everyone, from low to to high IQ. But now, more than ever, we have a "knowledge-based" economy with a cratered middle and mostly low wage service jobs at the bottom. This means that the economy is efficiently -- ruthlessly -- sorting people by intelligence, with predictable results.
Now, how do you solve that problem, especially if the problem isn't permitted to be named? Levin doesn't name it, so all of his solutions are somewhat beside the point. He mainly argues that we have to make a commitment to rebuilding mid-level institutions that mediate between the state and the citizen, because our economic bifurcation has led to a situation in which we have the isolated individual at one end and the state at the other, with nothing in between.
We know, for example, that the poor have much higher divorce rates, if they marry at all. But this might well be conflating a consequence with its cause. For example, divorce rates for college-educated women are quite low. Do they not get divorced because they are college-educated, or are both education and divorce rate controlled by something else, i.e., native intelligence?
It reminds me of the canard that kids raised in a house full of books grow up more intelligent -- as if the mere presence of books is the causal factor! In reality, intelligent people tend to read books, and pass on their intelligence to their children. If you take a person with an IQ of 85, and fill his house with books, it won't make any difference in the long run. This is to confuse a marker of intelligence with its attainment -- like making college "free" for everyone, including those of below-average intelligence.
Likewise, if two people with IQs of 125 have a stable marriage, economic prosperity, and successful children, can we extrapolate from this to say that people with IQs of 85 can and should expect the same? I mean, I believe in the institution of marriage for entirely different reasons. I'm all for it. But again, conservatives tend to conflate cause and consequences. I don't see how it will do much of anything to reverse the Big Sort.
I have no idea what the solution might be.
As I said, those are just my first impressions. I'll need to dig into more detail to do the book justice. Maybe Wednesday, because tomorrow will be tight.