Monday, August 01, 2016

The Fractured Republic and the Big Sort

We left off Friday with the idea that a purportedly horizontal multiculturalism may obscure a hierarchical and vertical multi-worldism. Indeed, this is one reason why it is such an historical anachronism to uncritically accuse our distant forebears as "racist," when, first of all, the concept didn't exist, and second, they were simply being empirical, not ideological. In other words, they observed the undeniable differences in cultural attainment, and concluded accordingly. There was no one there to tell them to ignore their lying eyes, and that all cultures are equally worthwhile and beautiful.

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.

26 Comments:

Blogger julie said...

One other major change has been the relentless globalization of the economy. Oddly, this is something lamented by left an right -- or at least Sanders and Trump -- but it is not going away, and there is no way to reverse the trend.

Recently, I have come around to the idea that globalization has actually been a great evil masquerading as good. What to do about it, I haven't the faintest idea, but the continued tendency of American businesses to use foreign labor while advocating paying Americans (in the form of welfare) to not work is a terrible thing.

8/01/2016 09:22:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Levin points out that it is not so much an evil as a mixed blessing, as all blessings tend to be. Much good comes from it, but also much bad, and the people who gave it to us did nothing to prepare us for the bad.

8/01/2016 09:25:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Then again, I'm not sure if poor people staring blankly into their cheap i-phones can be counted as a good.

8/01/2016 09:28:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

I can see Levin's point. Then again, I was reading something recently about what the trade-off has been with free trade: it used to be that certain things were quite expensive - sofas, appliances, that sort of thing - but that everyday essentials, particularly basic foodstuffs such as milk and bread, were relatively inexpensive and most anyone could afford the weekly grocery bill. Now it's the opposite: everyone has an iPhone (often heavily subsidized), but the grocery bill has increased tremendously. And the power bill.

I'm probably putting this all wrong (haven't given this enough consideration yet to speak with any coherence or depth of understanding), but the gist was that with free trade and globalization we have replaced affordable essentials with cheap trinkets, and it really wasn't a good trade.

8/01/2016 09:41:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Also, globalism has much to do with support for open borders, since for businesses it means they can import more foreign workers to do the jobs they don't want to pay Americans to do.

Two examples:

1) The practice of big businesses of importing tech workers on H1B visas, often booting Americans out of their jobs and forcing them to train their foreign replacements on the way out on pain of losing any severance benefits they may have been promised; sometimes even forbidding them from working in a competing field for some amount of time. The H1B workers are essentially indentured servants, if you consider the terms under which they are brought over.

2) Another practice, done by (if memory serves) businesses such as Tyson chicken, is to go to a small rural town and ask to set up a major packing plant or similar, with a promise of bringing in thousands of new jobs, lots of money and business. In reality, though, they build the plant but don't hire local - instead they bring in a crew of Somali "refugees" or similar, who will live in an essentially closed-off community and bring nothing but a higher tax burden to the municipality that was foolish enough to let them in. Not to mention the blessings of multiculturalism.

8/01/2016 09:57:00 AM  
Anonymous maineman said...

What to do? I would say, for starters, stop unrepentant sinning and see what God might have to suggest. For example, we could stop killing our babies and attacking the family as an institution. Who knows? Some unforeseen options might emerge.

I heard a historian once explain that the origin of our materialistic culture goes back to the end of the 30 Years War. Catholics and Protestants were apparently all so depleted that they decided to stop fighting and go shopping. Everyone could agree on material prosperity as a worthy goal. But as Bob keeps stressing, the bottom line is not material but spiritual. It's no surprise that an upside down world is going in the wrong direction.

8/01/2016 11:31:00 AM  
Blogger ted said...

the scientific Elephant in the Room, which is to say, the heritability of IQ

The left will fight this to the end of times, because it pretty much undermines their purpose.

8/01/2016 11:59:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

The IQ reality tells us that importing cheap labor via open borders is only going to make things worse. This is horse Trump is riding. Everybody who wants to understands why we cannot have unlimited immigration. Again with historical uniqueness -- immigration was one thing when we were getting high IQ refugees from Germany. We are not going to Mars because we of the low-I refugees from Syria or low-I freeloaders from Mexico.

8/01/2016 01:14:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

Riffing on what Maineman says regarding the spiritual nature of our warfare, I am reminded of how a friend claimed he had become 15% more intelligent by becoming a Christian. I believe the Holy Spirit does give people greater insight into and understanding of reality -- which is truth. Jesus said when the Spirit comes, He leads us into all truth. Intelligence is, at least in part, insight into reality. Prosperity is the result of the Christian transformation of a culture. The further we get from it, the poorer we become regardless of how much stuff we have -- and owe for, usually.

I used to be nicer than I am now. I have come to the conclusion that if a person is stupid and doesn't know it, they aren't much of a Christian. You don't have to be an intellectual giant to be saved -- thank God -- but you should at least know what you don't know.

8/01/2016 01:26:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Yes - hence the importance of humility.

8/01/2016 01:30:00 PM  
Anonymous maineman said...

True, about the Holy Spirit clarifying reality, blind but now I see and all that. This is why true Christians and neo-christian, small-c, traditionalists can't have conversations with liberals anymore. "We're so divided!" the libs lament. No shit, Sherlock. You live in La La land.

C.S. Lewis talks about how life is a series of choices, each one functioning like the branch of a tree that further separates from the other branches as it goes along. If the initial choice is wrong, then all of the subsequent ones will be increasingly so. It's like making an addition error that compounds itself as the summing continues. The only way to fix it is to go back and correct the original error.

That's the problem with what Levin seems to be saying, as far as I can see. Solutions would require that liberals are willing to go back and correct the original error, something that they show no impulse or inclination to do.

8/01/2016 01:57:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

An actual Democrat calls them out:

"For virtually all of my adult life, I have been a registered Democrat. But as the party has abandoned critical commitments to color-blind racial equality, upward mobility and economic growth, I have moved on to become a registered independent....

"The Bernie Bros and Gals think that higher taxes and more generous welfare benefits can turn America into a kind of mega-Scandinavia. They ignore the fact that the Nordic welfare state drew from generations of rapid growth built on small government, free markets and cultural factors, and that, in more recent years, countries such as Sweden have embraced a stronger free-market stance in order to pay for their generous welfare systems.

"five of the world’s 10 richest people favor Clinton. Long the belle of Wall Street, she has secured overwhelming support from increasingly powerful tech, entertainment and media oligarchies. These may acquiesce to the Left on social and environmental issues, but the new oligarchs will be happy to see the back of Bernie’s “soak the rich” platform. They can feel confident that Hillary will not threaten the tax and regulatory regime favorable to them, and some cronies, like Elon Musk or Google, can expect another flood of energy-related subsidies to enhance their already massive wealth.

"Hillary’s campaign website expends many more words talking about racial redress than about the economy. Clinton’s policy agenda focuses more on “framing issues as who instead of what” in a way that divides people by gender, race, age and sexuality."

*****

Fantasy solutions for the victim class, but real cash benefits to the wealthy and powerful!

8/01/2016 02:05:00 PM  
Blogger neal said...

I know a guy that pretty much did not like much the intelligent working in eugenics, on some approved mission, for the good of all.
I hear He was offered the key to the cities of men. Kind of hung out with the worthless, lost working class. My goodness, such a sinner.

Almost like intelligence of one heart just cast into the places that the respectable are blind to.

Probably no plan on killing all the cast out. More like replacing smug cognition with the losers.

Of course that would be dangerous, and would affect retirement plans for most. Hell of a thing to watch.

8/01/2016 02:25:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

It seems to me that the best thing for the less intellectually endowed would be a focus on skilled labor which is impossible to outsource. For example, we had a lot of work done on our house last year by fine craftsmen of limited intellect. Although not always. Often they are more intelligent than the tenured, but just want to be employed doing something useful to society.

8/01/2016 02:40:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Exactly.

Not everyone is suited for college, but most people can learn a craft or a skill. It does nobody a kindness - it is not loving, nor generous, nor merciful - to put somebody into an environment where they are so limited by ability that they cannot possibly succeed on their own merit.

My brother is a good example: by no means stupid, but he wasn't cut out for grade school. College would have been impossible. He lives a pretty great life as a diesel mechanic, doing useful blue collar work and having fun with his family on the weekends. By some measures has a better standard of living than I do, in fact. We need more people like that, and fewer languishing under a mountain of college debt in hopes of acquiring a job that either doesn't exist or that they aren't suited for.

8/01/2016 02:55:00 PM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

"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."

The tax rate, today, makes up very little in production costs, we could hack it nearly or of existence, and little would change.

On the other hand, if the hundreds of thousands of pages of regulations (I'll include the convolutions of the tax code here as well) were slashed to being strictly concerned with actual criminal actions/negligence, the productivity and wealth released would be astronomical - not to mention what is the driving factor behind businesses moving out of the nation.

But... of course that would drastically reduce govts power over us, would reduce their ability to apply pressure, gain influence and favors, and to believe that that is going to happen without near revolutionary circumstances, is to put us back into the naive category.

Sigh.

8/02/2016 11:07:00 AM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

"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."

This is conflating a few things too, though, isn't it? Of course if the books aren't read, nothing changes. If the books are read, but aren't worth reading, nothing changes. If the books are worth reading, are read, and put into practice (religious, ethical, habits of common manners and awareness of self and others), the person doing so may become wiser, more socially and materially productive, while quite possibly becoming no more measurably intelligent, than before. And I'm sure much could be applied to the smarty pants folk, reading smarty books of zero real value, who remain fully smarty while acting as drains, perhaps even destructive ones (the tenured, etc) upon society, socially and materially.

Isn't it also naive to bank so much on intelligence alone?

8/02/2016 11:22:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Van, those are good points. I was just having that discussion with my husband today. Essentially, some of the dumbest people he's ever known would probably score high on an IQ test; conversely, we know at least a few who might not score as high, but through sheer determination and hard work achieved more than many people who are "smarter."

8/02/2016 11:27:00 AM  
Blogger ted said...

My favorite new mind parasite that I'm humming to.

8/02/2016 02:09:00 PM  
Blogger JP said...

"And I'm sure much could be applied to the smarty pants folk, reading smarty books of zero real value, who remain fully smarty while acting as drains, perhaps even destructive ones (the tenured, etc) upon society, socially and materially."

Some books have negative value. So, there's that, too.

8/02/2016 03:05:00 PM  
Blogger JP said...

"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."

"High-quality" is not really something that I associated with what I call "the modern global financial hypereconomy".

And we are paying high salaries for low or negative value work. So there's that too.

I think a lot of what we are currently seeing is a combination of cheap energy coupled with unrestrained and incoherent credit generation that has resulted in serial bubbles and massive economic distortions.

8/02/2016 03:20:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

If you can'd find high quality at good prices, you're not trying very hard.

8/02/2016 03:23:00 PM  
Blogger Joan of Argghh! said...

Good link, Ted. Thanks!

8/02/2016 05:29:00 PM  
Blogger BZ said...

On I.Q.: I am a skeptic on IQ. I often wonder if I.Q. isn't just an index of predicted academic success, rather than Intelligence per se. Is success in the academy the chief good? I take a sort of the Forrest Gump view: "Stupid is as stupid does": does an IQ of 200 mean this person is the most intelligent on all matters? Usually it seems to be a narrow focus. People quote Einstein or Stephen Hawking on all sorts of matters, but I find them reliable only in a certain spectrum of Science. It is true certain geniuses are the font of new industries, but it isn't exclusive to them, and they have to have a vehicle to realize their visions.

In my travels to other countries, I found NO SHORTAGE of smart and college educated people who cannot get a job congruent with their intellect. In fact, in many countries, college is cheap or free, but they often have to come to the USA to get an opportunity to use their talents. I doubt the USA has the most geniuses through history, yet we are (were?) the richest and freest country. It seems to take something else beyond just intellect.

High IQ's the chief factor in a nation's success? I doubt it, I'd rather have Joe the Plumber in office than most of our political class. This belief took hold of me, and I suspect thousands of others, before Trump, Brexit, even goofy Bernie, made their debut. Seems Joe is somehow smarter than our elites.

8/03/2016 07:16:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

I don't know that a very high average IQ is required, but as noted here there is a minimum threshold - apparently around 94 - below which a civilization cannot maintain modern standards of living. So any nation with an average IQ of 100 - as in, what we consider truly "average" - should do fine. It doesn't take a nation full of geniuses, just people capable enough of understanding how to fix the plumbing and why it matters.

As noted above, "smart" people do plenty of dumb things, too. It's just that when they act out destructively, they do it by making laws that destroy civilization instead of simply rioting in the streets...

8/03/2016 08:13:00 AM  
Blogger Joan of Argghh! said...

Bingo, Julie. We can rebuild from a riot, but not from a systemic evil.

8/04/2016 04:34:00 AM  

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