Whence Polarization?

America today is riven with racial, social, and political divisions. Why? Is there a way out?

It’s hard to know where to begin. So, rather arbitrarily, I begin with race. David Reich‘s hot new book, Who We Are and How We Got Here, is causing a stir in genetic-research circles. Reich, who takes great pains to assure everyone that he isn’t a racist, and who deplores racism, is nevertheless candid about race:

I have deep sympathy for the concern that genetic discoveries could be misused to justify racism. But as a geneticist I also know that it is simply no longer possible to ignore average genetic differences among “races.”

Groundbreaking advances in DNA sequencing technology have been made over the last two decades. These advances enable us to measure with exquisite accuracy what fraction of an individual’s genetic ancestry traces back to, say, West Africa 500 years ago — before the mixing in the Americas of the West African and European gene pools that were almost completely isolated for the last 70,000 years. With the help of these tools, we are learning that while race may be a social construct, differences in genetic ancestry that happen to correlate to many of today’s racial constructs are real….

Self-identified African-Americans turn out to derive, on average, about 80 percent of their genetic ancestry from enslaved Africans brought to America between the 16th and 19th centuries. My colleagues and I searched, in 1,597 African-American men with prostate cancer, for locations in the genome where the fraction of genes contributed by West African ancestors was larger than it was elsewhere in the genome. In 2006, we found exactly what we were looking for: a location in the genome with about 2.8 percent more African ancestry than the average.

When we looked in more detail, we found that this region contained at least seven independent risk factors for prostate cancer, all more common in West Africans. Our findings could fully account for the higher rate of prostate cancer in African-Americans than in European-Americans. We could conclude this because African-Americans who happen to have entirely European ancestry in this small section of their genomes had about the same risk for prostate cancer as random Europeans.

Did this research rely on terms like “African-American” and “European-American” that are socially constructed, and did it label segments of the genome as being probably “West African” or “European” in origin? Yes. Did this research identify real risk factors for disease that differ in frequency across those populations, leading to discoveries with the potential to improve health and save lives? Yes.

While most people will agree that finding a genetic explanation for an elevated rate of disease is important, they often draw the line there. Finding genetic influences on a propensity for disease is one thing, they argue, but looking for such influences on behavior and cognition is another.

But whether we like it or not, that line has already been crossed. A recent study led by the economist Daniel Benjamin compiled information on the number of years of education from more than 400,000 people, almost all of whom were of European ancestry. After controlling for differences in socioeconomic background, he and his colleagues identified 74 genetic variations that are over-represented in genes known to be important in neurological development, each of which is incontrovertibly more common in Europeans with more years of education than in Europeans with fewer years of education.

It is not yet clear how these genetic variations operate. A follow-up study of Icelanders led by the geneticist Augustine Kong showed that these genetic variations also nudge people who carry them to delay having children. So these variations may be explaining longer times at school by affecting a behavior that has nothing to do with intelligence.

This study has been joined by others finding genetic predictors of behavior. One of these, led by the geneticist Danielle Posthuma, studied more than 70,000 people and found genetic variations in more than 20 genes that were predictive of performance on intelligence tests.

Is performance on an intelligence test or the number of years of school a person attends shaped by the way a person is brought up? Of course. But does it measure something having to do with some aspect of behavior or cognition? Almost certainly. And since all traits influenced by genetics are expected to differ across populations (because the frequencies of genetic variations are rarely exactly the same across populations), the genetic influences on behavior and cognition will differ across populations, too.

You will sometimes hear that any biological differences among populations are likely to be small, because humans have diverged too recently from common ancestors for substantial differences to have arisen under the pressure of natural selection. This is not true. The ancestors of East Asians, Europeans, West Africans and Australians were, until recently, almost completely isolated from one another for 40,000 years or longer, which is more than sufficient time for the forces of evolution to work. Indeed, the study led by Dr. Kong showed that in Iceland, there has been measurable genetic selection against the genetic variations that predict more years of education in that population just within the last century….

So how should we prepare for the likelihood that in the coming years, genetic studies will show that many traits are influenced by genetic variations, and that these traits will differ on average across human populations? It will be impossible — indeed, anti-scientific, foolish and absurd — to deny those differences. [“How Genetics Is Changing Our Understanding of ‘Race’“, The New York Times, March 23, 2018]

Reich engages in a lot of non-scientific wishful thinking about racial differences and how they should be treated by “society” — none of which is in his purview as a scientist. Reich’s forays into psychobabble have been addressed at length by Steve Sailer (here and here) and Gregory Cochran (here, here, here, here, and here). Suffice it to say that Reich is trying in vain to minimize the scientific fact of racial differences that show up crucially in intelligence and rates of violent crime.

Those ineradicable differences mean that there is something like a permanent — and mostly black — underclass in America. But there is an American “overclass” (to which I will come) which insists that all can be made well by pushing the underclass into contact with people who (wisely) resist the push, and shoveling money and privileges at it. This, alone, would be cause enough for a chasm between the overclass and those who resist its misguided social agenda. But there is more.

I now invoke Robert Putnam, a political scientist known mainly for his book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (2005), in which he

makes a distinction between two kinds of social capital: bonding capital and bridging capital. Bonding occurs when you are socializing with people who are like you: same age, same race, same religion, and so on. But in order to create peaceful societies in a diverse multi-ethnic country, one needs to have a second kind of social capital: bridging. Bridging is what you do when you make friends with people who are not like you, like supporters of another football team. Putnam argues that those two kinds of social capital, bonding and bridging, do strengthen each other. Consequently, with the decline of the bonding capital mentioned above inevitably comes the decline of the bridging capital leading to greater ethnic tensions.

In later work on diversity and trust within communities, Putnam concludes that

other things being equal, more diversity in a community is associated with less trust both between and within ethnic groups….

Even when controlling for income inequality and crime rates, two factors which conflict theory states should be the prime causal factors in declining inter-ethnic group trust, more diversity is still associated with less communal trust.

Lowered trust in areas with high diversity is also associated with:

  • Lower confidence in local government, local leaders and the local news media.
  • Lower political efficacy – that is, confidence in one’s own influence.
  • Lower frequency of registering to vote, but more interest and knowledge about politics and more participation in protest marches and social reform groups.
  • Higher political advocacy, but lower expectations that it will bring about a desirable result.
  • Less expectation that others will cooperate to solve dilemmas of collective action (e.g., voluntary conservation to ease a water or energy shortage).
  • Less likelihood of working on a community project.
  • Less likelihood of giving to charity or volunteering.
  • Fewer close friends and confidants.
  • Less happiness and lower perceived quality of life.
  • More time spent watching television and more agreement that “television is my most important form of entertainment”.

It’s not as if Putnam is a social conservative who is eager to impart such news. To the contrary, Putnam’s

findings on the downsides of diversity have also posed a challenge for Putnam, a liberal academic whose own values put him squarely in the pro-diversity camp. Suddenly finding himself the bearer of bad news, Putnam has struggled with how to present his work. He gathered the initial raw data in 2000 and issued a press release the following year outlining the results. He then spent several years testing other possible explanations.

When he finally published a detailed scholarly analysis … , he faced criticism for straying from data into advocacy. His paper argues strongly that the negative effects of diversity can be remedied, and says history suggests that ethnic diversity may eventually fade as a sharp line of social demarcation.

“Having aligned himself with the central planners intent on sustaining such social engineering, Putnam concludes the facts with a stern pep talk,” wrote conservative commentator Ilana Mercer….

After releasing the initial results in 2001, Putnam says he spent time “kicking the tires really hard” to be sure the study had it right. Putnam realized, for instance, that more diverse communities tended to be larger, have greater income ranges, higher crime rates, and more mobility among their residents — all factors that could depress social capital independent of any impact ethnic diversity might have.

“People would say, ‘I bet you forgot about X,’” Putnam says of the string of suggestions from colleagues. “There were 20 or 30 X’s.”

But even after statistically taking them all into account, the connection remained strong: Higher diversity meant lower social capital. In his findings, Putnam writes that those in more diverse communities tend to “distrust their neighbors, regardless of the color of their skin, to withdraw even from close friends, to expect the worst from their community and its leaders, to volunteer less, give less to charity and work on community projects less often, to register to vote less, to agitate for social reform more but have less faith that they can actually make a difference, and to huddle unhappily in front of the television.”

“People living in ethnically diverse settings appear to ‘hunker down’ — that is, to pull in like a turtle,” Putnam writes….

In a recent study, [Harvard economist Edward] Glaeser and colleague Alberto Alesina demonstrated that roughly half the difference in social welfare spending between the US and Europe — Europe spends far more — can be attributed to the greater ethnic diversity of the US population. Glaeser says lower national social welfare spending in the US is a “macro” version of the decreased civic engagement Putnam found in more diverse communities within the country.

Economists Matthew Kahn of UCLA and Dora Costa of MIT reviewed 15 recent studies in a 2003 paper, all of which linked diversity with lower levels of social capital. Greater ethnic diversity was linked, for example, to lower school funding, census response rates, and trust in others. Kahn and Costa’s own research documented higher desertion rates in the Civil War among Union Army soldiers serving in companies whose soldiers varied more by age, occupation, and birthplace.

Birds of different feathers may sometimes flock together, but they are also less likely to look out for one another. “Everyone is a little self-conscious that this is not politically correct stuff,” says Kahn….

In his paper, Putnam cites the work done by Page and others, and uses it to help frame his conclusion that increasing diversity in America is not only inevitable, but ultimately valuable and enriching. As for smoothing over the divisions that hinder civic engagement, Putnam argues that Americans can help that process along through targeted efforts. He suggests expanding support for English-language instruction and investing in community centers and other places that allow for “meaningful interaction across ethnic lines.”

Some critics have found his prescriptions underwhelming. And in offering ideas for mitigating his findings, Putnam has drawn scorn for stepping out of the role of dispassionate researcher. “You’re just supposed to tell your peers what you found,” says John Leo, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank. [Michael Jonas, “The downside of diversity,” The Boston Globe (boston.com), August 5, 2007]

What is it about academics like Reich and Putnam who can’t bear to face the very facts that they have uncovered? The magic word is “academics”. They are denizens of a milieu in which the facts of life about race, guns, sex, and many other things are in the habit of being suppressed in favor of “hope and change”, and the facts be damned.

All of this is a prelude to some observations about the state of America:

The U.S. was undoubtedly more united — more tightly knit by “bonding” and “bridging” capital — in 15 years after the end of World War II than it has been since. Bonding has loosened among whites because of socioeconomic and geographic mobility.

Post-war prosperity enabled most of the descendants of the Greatest Generation (GG) to live high on the hog compared with the GG.

College-going rates boomed, giving the descendants of the GG access to social and cultural circles that weren’t open to most of the GG.

The descendants of the GG, because of their greater prosperity and movement in “higher” circles (which include even seemingly trivial things like book clubs and wine-tasting clubs), became (on the whole) distant from the morals and mores of the GG and its antecedents. The more educated and the more highly paid, the more distant.

The GG and their antecedents weren’t strangers to regional, racial, religious, and class differences, and the suspicions and (sometimes) hostility engendered by them. But the whites among them (i.e., the vast majority), were broadly united in their allegiance to God and country. The blacks were, too, though they lived mostly apart from whites, by design (mainly on the part of whites) and mutual choice.

That degree of unity was possible because the economic and educational differences among the GG and its antecedents didn’t span as vast a range as they do today, and because they were racially (if not ethnically) similar.

On top of that there are wide and growing racial-cultural fissures. (For who can deny that race and culture are deeply intertwined?) These fissures are due in part to the rapid growth of black and Hispanic populations in the United States since the 1960s, growth that will put whites in the minority by the middle of the 21st century, This will come after two centuries (from 1790 to 1990) when whites accounted for more than 80 percent of the population, and a 70-year span (1900 to 1970) when the population was 88-percent to 90-percent white. Throw in the huge numbers of illegal immigrants, and the picture looks even darker.

There is just no getting around it. Like prefers like, and it’s just as true among blacks and Hispanics as it is among whites. Throw in the deepening divisions among whites (discussed above), and you have a country unlike the one that existed in the first 60 years of the 20th century.

Throw in, on top of all that, dissensions bred by white elites (The Crust), and you have a country that is unrecognizable to almost anyone who came of age before 1960, or anyone who still adheres to the morals and mores of that earlier era.

The Crust consists of the information-entertainment-media-academic complex, huge swaths of the professional-managerial (college-educated) classes, and most of the politicians at the national, State, and local levels. Many of the politicians who profess allegiance to conservatism are nothing but vote-seeking, power-hungry, backslappers who would rather be reelected by pandering to special interests than actually try to conserve traditional American values like self-reliance and respect for others’ property and liberty.

What you have, in fact, is a culture war that has become a cold civil war. But it’s not a war of white vs. colored or North vs. South, though because of the “big sort” it does have a geographic dimension. At bottom, it’s a war of white traditionalists vs. The Crust and the “victim” classes (blacks, Hispanics, gender-confused persons, etc.) favored by The Crust to the exclusion of non-Crust heterosexual white males. You know the drill:

The Crust believes in sharing the wealth. Not all of its own wealth mind you, but just enough to assuage The Crust’s white guilt. But sharing means forced sharing (because The Crust knows what’s good for everyone), regardless of its long-run economic effects and the burdens that it places on taxpayers of modest means.

Sharing the wealth includes a commitment to demonstrably destructive and counterproductive schemes, some of which are the affirmative action, the minimum wage, universal basic income, expanded Medicaid rolls, “free” college, and that holy grail of feel-good schemes: single-payer health care. (You can be sure that The Crust would still have access to private-pay health care.) These are sure-fire vote-getters among blacks and illegal immigrants — both (not coincidentally) favored groups among The Crust.

Throw in other programs and policies to entice and keep the votes of aggrieved feminists, gender-confused persons, naive transnationalists, religion-haters, success-enviers, and everyone else who believes that white America is evil (The Crust excepted, of course) and that it’s government’s job to deliver nirvana. Sprinkle in a huge helping of idealistic and impetuous youth. Stir, stir, stir with all of the communications technology that can be mustered.

Suppress dissenting views by invoking the “victim” classes (women, blacks, Hispanics, Muslims, gender-confused persons, etc.).

Pump schoolchildren and college students full of The Crust’s crazy beliefs (small samples here and here), so that in a few decades those beliefs will be set in concrete among most of the populace. (Shades of the “flower children” of the 1960s and 1970s who became politicians, lawyers, judges, professors, and joined other influential pursuits.)

These economic and cultural differences underlie the fragmentation of America.

But it’s worse than fragmentation. The Crust is in charge of almost everything, including much of government. The Resistance (which Wikipedia doesn’t even acknowledge) is of The Crust’s making. In concert with its sub-rosa members in the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of the central, State, and local governments, The Resistance is dedicated to the overthrow of the lawfully elected President of the United States. Why? Because he is perceived as a threat to The Crust’s agenda: one world under the technocratic control of administrative agencies dedicated to the pursuance of The Crust’s pseudo-scientific dogmas.

The spirit of it is captured by Theodore Dalrymple:

The threat to our freedom comes not from government, except when it cravenly capitulates to the demands of monomaniacs and tries to limit our speech by decree, but from pressure groups from within what used to be called, invariably as a term of approbation, civil society. Perhaps uncivil society would now be a better term for at least a part of it, which wants to reform not only laws but our minds and souls. It does this not for the sake of betterment, but as an exercise in, or as an expression of, power. The will to power seems to have infected people who once might have been content to live quietly, power itself now being the only goal worth aiming for in the absence of anything more elevated or elevating.

Stalin famously (or infamously) once said that writers were the engineers of souls, and that is what pressure groups believe themselves increasingly to be. They do not so much seek to persuade us by the force of their arguments as irreversibly to change our mentalities. Habit is character, and if we can be forcibly made to change the way we speak, eventually our thoughts will follow. Of course, such changes have always occurred, but less by design than spontaneously.

The totalitarian impulse did not die with the Soviet Union, but rather fractured into many different monomanias. The freedom that many people desire is the freedom to limit other people’s freedom, which they find much more gratifying than the mere expression of their own opinion, which has at most the effect of throwing a pebble into a pond, causing a ripple that soon disappears and is forgotten. Surely I am more important than that, and my opinion deserves to dictate to others?

Political polarization is about much more than culture. It’s about liberty. Freedom of speech is a threat to The Crust and The Resistance because their joint agenda can so easily be shown for the sham that it is. Thus it is imperative for The Crust and The Resistance to stifle freedom of speech and other freedoms that threaten their agenda: freedom of religion, freedom of association, and the right to bear arms.

Totalitarianism is on the march, and it is gaining strength daily.

I once again beseech Mr. Trump to undertake a preemptive (cold) civil war before it is too late to rescue liberty from its enemies within.

It’s the only way out.

Related reading:
Peter Leyden and Ruy Texeira, “The Great Lesson of California in America’s New Civil War“, Medium, January 19, 2018
Kurt Schlichter, “Liberals Announce Plan to Crush Normal Americans in a New “Civil War” (Spoiler: It’s Not a Great Plan)“, Townhall, April 9, 2018
Selwyn Duke, “Twitter’s CEO Endorses Call for Conservatism’s DestructionThe New American, April 11, 2018
Surnantra Maitra, “The Creeping and Creepy March of the Progressive Totalitarian Impulse“, American Greatness, April 11, 2018
John Derbyshire, “Ideology Trumps Reality in Reich’s Who We Are And How We Got Here“, The Unz Review, April 19, 2018

Related posts:
Slopes, Ratchets, and the Death Spiral of Liberty
The Slippery Slope of Constitutional Revisionism
The Ruinous Despotism of Democracy
A New (Cold) Civil War or Secession?
The Constitution: Original Meaning, Corruption, and Restoration
Asymmetrical (Ideological) Warfare
The Culture War
Judicial Supremacy: Judicial Tyranny
The Tenor of the Times
The Answer to Judicial Supremacy
Turning Points
Independence Day 2016: The Way Ahead
An Addendum to (Asymmetrical) Ideological Warfare
The Rahn Curve Revisited
Polarization and De-facto Partition
Civil War?
Freedom of Speech and the Long War for Constitutional Governance
Roundup: Civil War, Solitude, Transgenderism, Academic Enemies, and Immigration
If Men Were Angels
Academic Freedom, Freedom of Speech, and the Demise of Civility
Liberty in Chains
Self-Made Victims
The Social Security Mess Revisited
The Public-Goods Myth
Libertarianism, Conservatism, and Political Correctness
Sexual Misconduct: A New Crime, a New Kind of Justice
Politics and Prosperity: A Natural Experiment
As the World Lurches
A Not-So-Stealthy Revolution
“Tribalists”, “Haters”, and Psychological Projection
Utilitarianism (and Gun Control) vs. Liberty
Utopianism, Leftism, and Dictatorship
“Democracy” Thrives in Darkness — and Liberty Withers
Preemptive (Cold) Civil War
Reductio ad Sclopetum, or Getting to the Bottom of “Gun Control”
Preemptive (Cold) Civil War, without Delay

Abortion, the “Me” Generation, and the Left

The self-centered depravity that is all too common among the members of the “Me” generation (a.k.a. Baby Boomers) — and among leftists — is perhaps most clearly seen through the lens of abortion.

I’ll begin by dispensing with slogans: Pro-life means anti-abortion; pro-choice means pro-abortion. Person who claim to be pro-choice will dispute my assertion that pro-choice means pro-abortion. They will say that they simply want women to have the choice between aborting and not aborting a fetus, which is a child in the making.

But pro-choicers want that choice because they believe that abortion is (a) moral and (b) should be at the discretion of the person who is carrying the child. Many pro-choicers probably would skip over (a), but that is the import of (b). That is to say, they oppose the propositions that abortion is (a) immoral (i.e., murder) and (b) should not therefore be at the sole discretion of the person who is carrying the child.

There are rare cases where the mother’s life or health is at grave risk if a fetus isn’t aborted. In those rare cases, it would be immoral to sacrifice life of a mother who may already have children to care for, whose death might cause the death of the fetus, and whose incapacity would probably mean a life of misery. In any event, these rare cases shouldn’t be invoked in defense of abortion as a procedure that any woman may elect for any reason.

There is a phony pro-abortion argument that a fetus (the pro-abortion camp’s preferred word) is fair game (so to speak) until it is viable. That is, until it could survive (as a newborn child) outside the mother’s womb. But that is a circular argument because a fetus that is aborted before it could have survived outside the mother’s womb would have attained viability had it not been aborted. The viability argument comes down to this: It is all right to kill a fetus before it becomes viable, so that it cannot become viable.

Even more specious is the belief, prevalent among some of the pro-abortion crowd, that late-term abortion is acceptable because the child hasn’t yet been born. Gone is any pretense that viability matters. Now it’s simply a question of whether the child has made its way entirely through the birth canal. But because it hasn’t yet done so (and in some cases, even if it has), the fetus can be killed. Why? Because of a fine line (sometimes ignored) between almost-born and born.

What about the child who comes into the world by caesarean section, sometimes prematurely? And what about premature babies who survive, as they more commonly do nowadays? Such babies are a living rebuke to the savage practice of late-term abortion, which can only be called murder.

Is abortion a woman’s inalienable right because the baby in her womb is really part of her and completely dependent on her? The fetus is a separate human being, no matter how dependent on its mother. Further, dependency doesn’t end with birth. In fact, these days it often continues until a child is a twenty-something. There are some advocates of post-natal infanticide, but only enthusiasts of euthanasia would extend abortion murder beyond that stage.

There are other arguments for abortion (see the posts here). But I have yet to encounter a valid one, except the necessity to save the life or health of a mother. Support for legalized abortion is of a piece with the “youth movement” that began in the 1960s, and which should have taken “It’s all about me” as its motto.

As Daniel J. Flynn points out in a piece at The American Spectator:

Students did not end the Vietnam War. They ended the draft. And once the draft ended, their protests, at least on a mass scale, ended, too.

Wikipedia, not normally my go-to source for history, lists more than 100 major events on its page documenting protests against the Vietnam War. The very last one occurred one week before Richard Nixon ended the draft. Small, scattered protests, of the like that do not appear Wikipedia’s radar—one in Central Park in 1975 involving Joan Baez and others comes to mind—continued. But even as the killing continued the big protests did not because the draft did not.

And it is true that U.S. combat operations continued after the end of the draft. So I must agree with Flynn’s astute observation.

What does it have to do with abortion? It’s mostly about the “Me” generation — the Boomers who came of age in the 1960s and 1970s. Look at this:

The graph comes from this source, which addresses some of the causes of the decline in the abortion rate since 1980. There are others, such as easier access to contraceptives and the growing awareness (and fear of) HIV/AIDS.

But the most obvious cause of the decline is the aging of Boomers. A large fraction of the women who were born during the peak baby-boom years (1946-1960)  would have been “past it” by the mid-1990s*. And that’s when the abortion rate ended a period of relatively steep decline (see above graph). The abortion rate continued to decline at more gradual rate through the early 2000s, when it leveled off, then began to decline at a faster rate after 2008. (The most likely cause of the steeper decline since 2008 is the enactment by several States of stricter controls on abortion.)

This isn’t to absolve later generations of their sins. Most college graduates and college-goers** of the X, Millennial, and Z generations have drunk the kool-aid of political correctness and “liberal” fascism. But the Boomers were and are especially dangerous because so many of them became prominent in politics, the law, and the internet-media-academic complex.

The Boomers (or too many of them) epitomize the left’s arrested state of adolescent rebellion: “Daddy” doesn’t want me to smoke, so I’m going to smoke; “Daddy” doesn’t want me to drink, so I’m going to drink; “Daddy” doesn’t want me to have sex, so I’m going to have sex. But, regardless of my behavior, I expect “Daddy” to give me an allowance, and birthday presents, and cell phones, and so on.

“Daddy,” in the case of abortion, is government, which had banned abortion in many places. If it’s banned, the left wants it. But the left — like an adolescent — also expects government to cough up money (others’ money, of course) to quench its material desires.

Persons of the left simply are simply unthinking, selfish adolescents who want what they want, regardless of the consequences for others. The left’s stance on abortion should be viewed as just one more adolescent tantrum in a vast repertoire of tantrums.
* The late Norma McCorvey (a.k.a. Jane Roe of Roe v. Wade) epitomized the Boomers. She was born in 1947 and began her eventually successful suit to legalize abortion when she was 21. McCorvey’s later conversion to Catholicism and anti-abortion activism do great credit to her memory.

** College-goers, as distinct from students who are striving to acquire knowledge rather than left-wing propaganda and to exercise their critical faculties instead of parroting left-wing slogans.

Related: See my page about leftism and posts tagged abortion.

Not-So-Random Thoughts (XX)

An occasional survey of web material that’s related to subjects about which I’ve posted. Links to the other posts in this series may be found at “Favorite Posts,” just below the list of topics.

In “The Capitalist Paradox Meets the Interest-Group Paradox,” I quote from Frédéric Bastiat’s “What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen“:

[A] law produces not only one effect, but a series of effects. Of these effects, the first alone is immediate; it appears simultaneously with its cause; it is seen. The other effects emerge only subsequently; they are not seen; we are fortunate if we foresee them.

This might also be called the law of unintended consequences. It explains why so much “liberal” legislation is passed: the benefits are focused a particular group and obvious (if overestimated); the costs are borne by taxpayers in general, many of whom fail to see that the sum of “liberal” legislation is a huge tax bill.

Ross Douthat understands:

[A] new paper, just released through the National Bureau of Economic Research, that tries to look at the Affordable Care Act in full. Its authors find, as you would expect, a substantial increase in insurance coverage across the country. What they don’t find is a clear relationship between that expansion and, again, public health. The paper shows no change in unhealthy behaviors (in terms of obesity, drinking and smoking) under
Obamacare, and no statistically significant improvement in self-reported health since the law went into effect….

[T]he health and mortality data [are] still important information for policy makers, because [they] indicate[] that subsidies for health insurance are not a uniquely death-defying and therefore sacrosanct form of social spending. Instead, they’re more like other forms of redistribution, with costs and benefits that have to be weighed against one another, and against other ways to design a safety net. Subsidies for employer-provided coverage crowd out wages, Medicaid coverage creates benefit cliffs and work disincentives…. [“Is Obamacare a Lifesaver?The New York Times, March 29, 2017]

So does Roy Spencer:

In a theoretical sense, we can always work to make the environment “cleaner”, that is, reduce human pollution. So, any attempts to reduce the EPA’s efforts will be viewed by some as just cozying up to big, polluting corporate interests. As I heard one EPA official state at a conference years ago, “We can’t stop making the environment ever cleaner”.

The question no one is asking, though, is “But at what cost?

It was relatively inexpensive to design and install scrubbers on smokestacks at coal-fired power plants to greatly reduce sulfur emissions. The cost was easily absorbed, and electricty rates were not increased that much.

The same is not true of carbon dioxide emissions. Efforts to remove CO2 from combustion byproducts have been extremely difficult, expensive, and with little hope of large-scale success.

There is a saying: don’t let perfect be the enemy of good enough.

In the case of reducing CO2 emissions to fight global warming, I could discuss the science which says it’s not the huge problem it’s portrayed to be — how warming is only progressing at half the rate forecast by those computerized climate models which are guiding our energy policy; how there have been no obvious long-term changes in severe weather; and how nature actually enjoys the extra CO2, with satellites now showing a “global greening” phenomenon with its contribution to increases in agricultural yields.

But it’s the economics which should kill the Clean Power Plan and the alleged Social “Cost” of Carbon. Not the science.

There is no reasonable pathway by which we can meet more than about 20% of global energy demand with renewable energy…the rest must come mostly from fossil fuels. Yes, renewable energy sources are increasing each year, usually because rate payers or taxpayers are forced to subsidize them by the government or by public service commissions. But global energy demand is rising much faster than renewable energy sources can supply. So, for decades to come, we are stuck with fossil fuels as our main energy source.

The fact is, the more we impose high-priced energy on the masses, the more it will hurt the poor. And poverty is arguably the biggest threat to human health and welfare on the planet. [“Trump’s Rollback of EPA Overreach: What No One Is Talking About,” Roy Spencer, Ph.D.[blog], March 29, 2017]

*     *     *

I mentioned the Benedict Option in “Independence Day 2016: The Way Ahead,” quoting Bruce Frohnen in tacit agreement:

[Rod] Dreher has been writing a good deal, of late, about what he calls the Benedict Option, by which he means a tactical withdrawal by people of faith from the mainstream culture into religious communities where they will seek to nurture and strengthen the faithful for reemergence and reengagement at a later date….

The problem with this view is that it underestimates the hostility of the new, non-Christian society [e.g., this and this]….

Leaders of this [new, non-Christian] society will not leave Christians alone if we simply surrender the public square to them. And they will deny they are persecuting anyone for simply applying the law to revoke tax exemptions, force the hiring of nonbelievers, and even jail those who fail to abide by laws they consider eminently reasonable, fair, and just.

Exactly. John Horvat II makes the same point:

For [Dreher], the only response that still remains is to form intentional communities amid the neo-barbarians to “provide an unintentional political witness to secular culture,” which will overwhelm the barbarian by the “sheer humanity of Christian compassion, and the image of human dignity it honors.” He believes that setting up parallel structures inside society will serve to protect and preserve Christian communities under the new neo-barbarian dispensation. We are told we should work with the political establishment to “secure and expand the space within which we can be ourselves and our own institutions” inside an umbrella of religious liberty.

However, barbarians don’t like parallel structures; they don’t like structures at all. They don’t co-exist well with anyone. They don’t keep their agreements or respect religious liberty. They are not impressed by the holy lives of the monks whose monastery they are plundering. You can trust barbarians to always be barbarians. [“Is the Benedict Option the Answer to Neo-Barbarianism?Crisis Magazine, March 29, 2017]

As I say in “The Authoritarianism of Modern Liberalism, and the Conservative Antidote,”

Modern liberalism attracts persons who wish to exert control over others. The stated reasons for exerting control amount to “because I know better” or “because it’s good for you (the person being controlled)” or “because ‘social justice’ demands it.”

Leftists will not countenance a political arrangement that allows anyone to escape the state’s grasp — unless, of course, the state is controlled by the “wrong” party, In which case, leftists (or many of them) would like to exercise their own version of the Benedict Option. See “Polarization and De Facto Partition.”

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Theodore Dalrymple understands the difference between terrorism and accidents:

Statistically speaking, I am much more at risk of being killed when I get into my car than when I walk in the streets of the capital cities that I visit. Yet this fact, no matter how often I repeat it, does not reassure me much; the truth is that one terrorist attack affects a society more deeply than a thousand road accidents….

Statistics tell me that I am still safe from it, as are all my fellow citizens, individually considered. But it is precisely the object of terrorism to create fear, dismay, and reaction out of all proportion to its volume and frequency, to change everyone’s way of thinking and behavior. Little by little, it is succeeding. [“How Serious Is the Terrorist Threat?City Journal, March 26, 2017]

Which reminds me of several things I’ve written, beginning with this entry from “Not-So-Random Thoughts (VI)“:

Cato’s loony libertarians (on matters of defense) once again trot out Herr Doktor Professor John Mueller. He writes:

We have calculated that, for the 12-year period from 1999 through 2010 (which includes 9/11, of course), there was one chance in 22 million that an airplane flight would be hijacked or otherwise attacked by terrorists. (“Serial Innumeracy on Homeland Security,” Cato@Liberty, July 24, 2012)

Mueller’s “calculation” consists of an recitation of known terrorist attacks pre-Benghazi and speculation about the status of Al-Qaeda. Note to Mueller: It is the unknown unknowns that kill you. I refer Herr Doktor Professor to “Riots, Culture, and the Final Showdown” and “Mission Not Accomplished.”

See also my posts “Getting It All Wrong about the Risk of Terrorism” and “A Skewed Perspective on Terrorism.”

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This is from my post, “A Reflection on the Greatest Generation“:

The Greatest tried to compensate for their own privations by giving their children what they, the parents, had never had in the way of material possessions and “fun”. And that is where the Greatest Generation failed its children — especially the Baby Boomers — in large degree. A large proportion of Boomers grew up believing that they should have whatever they want, when they want it, with no strings attached. Thus many of them divorced, drank, and used drugs almost wantonly….

The Greatest Generation — having grown up believing that FDR was a secular messiah, and having learned comradeship in World War II — also bequeathed us governmental self-indulgence in the form of the welfare-regulatory state. Meddling in others’ affairs seems to be a predilection of the Greatest Generation, a predilection that the Millenials may be shrugging off.

We owe the Greatest Generation a great debt for its service during World War II. We also owe the Greatest Generation a reprimand for the way it raised its children and kowtowed to government. Respect forbids me from delivering the reprimand, but I record it here, for the benefit of anyone who has unduly romanticized the Greatest Generation.

There’s more in “The Spoiled Children of Capitalism“:

This is from Tim [of Angle’s] “The Spoiled Children of Capitalism“:

The rot set after World War II. The Taylorist techniques of industrial production put in place to win the war generated, after it was won, an explosion of prosperity that provided every literate American the opportunity for a good-paying job and entry into the middle class. Young couples who had grown up during the Depression, suddenly flush (compared to their parents), were determined that their kids would never know the similar hardships.

As a result, the Baby Boomers turned into a bunch of spoiled slackers, no longer turned out to earn a living at 16, no longer satisfied with just a high school education, and ready to sell their votes to a political class who had access to a cornucopia of tax dollars and no doubt at all about how they wanted to spend it….

I have long shared Tim’s assessment of the Boomer generation. Among the corroborating data are my sister and my wife’s sister and brother — Boomers all….

Low conscientiousness was the bane of those Boomers who, in the 1960s and 1970s, chose to “drop out” and “do drugs.”…

Now comes this:

According to writer and venture capitalist Bruce Gibney, baby boomers are a “generation of sociopaths.”

In his new book, he argues that their “reckless self-indulgence” is in fact what set the example for millennials.

Gibney describes boomers as “acting without empathy, prudence, or respect for facts – acting, in other words, as sociopaths.”

And he’s not the first person to suggest this.

Back in 1976, journalist Tom Wolfe dubbed the young adults then coming of age the “Me Generation” in the New York Times, which is a term now widely used to describe millennials.

But the baby boomers grew up in a very different climate to today’s young adults.

When the generation born after World War Two were starting to make their way in the world, it was a time of economic prosperity.

“For the first half of the boomers particularly, they came of age in a time of fairly effortless prosperity, and they were conditioned to think that everything gets better each year without any real effort,” Gibney explained to The Huffington Post.

“So they really just assume that things are going to work out, no matter what. That’s unhelpful conditioning.

“You have 25 years where everything just seems to be getting better, so you tend not to try as hard, and you have much greater expectations about what society can do for you, and what it owes you.”…

Gibney puts forward the argument that boomers – specifically white, middle-class ones – tend to have genuine sociopathic traits.

He backs up his argument with mental health data which appears to show that this generation have more anti-social characteristics than others – lack of empathy, disregard for others, egotism and impulsivity, for example. [Rachel Hosie, “Baby Boomers Are a Generation of Sociopaths,” Independent, March 23, 2017]

That’s what I said.

The Spoiled Children of Capitalism

I am struck by the convergence of two posts that I read recently. The first is by Tim of Angle (he says it’s his real name), the proprietor of Dyspepsia Generation (a blog deserving of a vast readership). This is from Tim’s “The Spoiled Children of Capitalism“:

The rot set after World War II. The Taylorist techniques of industrial production put in place to win the war generated, after it was won, an explosion of prosperity that provided every literate American the opportunity for a good-paying job and entry into the middle class. Young couples who had grown up during the Depression, suddenly flush (compared to their parents), were determined that their kids would never know the similar hardships.

As a result, the Baby Boomers turned into a bunch of spoiled slackers, no longer turned out to earn a living at 16, no longer satisfied with just a high school education, and ready to sell their votes to a political class who had access to a cornucopia of tax dollars and no doubt at all about how they wanted to spend it. And, sadly, they passed their principles, if one may use the term so loosely, down the generations to the point where young people today are scarcely worth using for fertilizer.

In 1919, or 1929, or especially 1939, the adolescents of 1969 would have had neither the leisure nor the money to create the Woodstock Nation. But mommy and daddy shelled out because they didn’t want their little darlings to be caught short, and consequently their little darlings became the worthless whiners who voted for people like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama [and who were people like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama: ED.], with results as you see them. Now that history is catching up to them, a third generation of losers can think of nothing better to do than camp out on Wall Street in hopes that the Cargo will suddenly begin to arrive again.

Good luck with that.

I have long shared Tim’s assessment of the Boomer generation. Among the corroborating data are my sister and my wife’s sister and brother — Boomers all.

It is less clear that all Boomers passed along their generally deplorable traits. Contradictory data include my sister’s three children, my wife’s sister’s child, and one of my wife’s brother’s children. As members of Generation X — a Reactive generation, in Strauss and Howe’s theory of generations — they “tend to be pragmatic and perceptive, savvy but amoral, more focused on money than on art.” (The other of my wife’s brother’s children is of Generation Y, discussed next.)

Gen X’s successors are found in Generation Y. It is they who seem to dominate the ranks of “Occupiers,” and they are, in the main, children of Boomers. But Gen Yers are of a different character than their older siblings. To the extent that they are late children of Boomers, it is likely that they resemble Boomers in having been spoiled. And it shows in the “Occupy” movement, the underlying theme of which is that the world owes them — the “Occupiers” — a living.

So, despite my quibbles about Gen X, I subscribe to Tim’s view that the rot set in after World War II. That rot, in the form of slackerism, is more prevalent now than it ever was. It is not for nothing that Gen Y is also known as the Boomerang Generation.

Which brings me to Bryan Caplan’s post, “Poverty, Conscientiousness, and Broken Families.” Caplan — who is all wet when it comes to pacifism and libertarianism — usually makes sense when he describes the world as it is rather than as he would like it to be. He writes:

[W]hen leftist social scientists actually talk to and observe the poor, they confirm the stereotypes of the harshest Victorian.  Poverty isn’t about money; it’s a state of mind.  That state of mind is low conscientiousness.

Case in point: Kathryn Edin and Maria KefalasPromises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood Before Marriage.  The authors spent years interviewing poor single moms.  Edin actually moved into their neighborhood to get closer to her subjects.  One big conclusion:

Most social scientists who study poor families assume financial troubles are the cause of these breakups [between cohabitating parents]… Lack of money is certainly a contributing cause, as we will see, but rarely the only factor.  It is usually the young father’s criminal behavior, the spells of incarceration that so often follow, a pattern of intimate violence, his chronic infidelity, and an inability to leave drugs and alcohol alone that cause relationships to falter and die.


Conflicts over money do not usually erupt simply because the man cannot find a job or because he doesn’t earn as much as someone with better skills or education.  Money usually becomes an issue because he seems unwilling to keep at a job for any length of time, usually because of issues related to respect.  Some of the jobs he can get don’t pay enough to give him the self-respect he feels he needs, and others require him to get along with unpleasant customers and coworkers, and to maintain a submissive attitude toward the boss.

These passages focus on low male conscientiousness, but the rest of the book shows it’s a two-way street.  And even when Edin and Kefalas are talking about men, low female conscientiousness is implicit.  After all, conscientious women wouldn’t associate with habitually unemployed men in the first place – not to mention alcoholics, addicts, or criminals.

Low conscientiousness was the bane of those Boomers who, in the 1960s and 1970s, chose to “drop out” and “do drugs.” It will be the bane of the Gen Yers who do the same thing. But, as usual, “society” will be expected to pick up the tab, with food stamps, subsidized housing, drug rehab programs, Medicaid, and so on.

Before the onset of the welfare state in the 1930s, there were two ways to survive: work hard or accept whatever charity came your way. And there was only one way for most persons to thrive: work hard. That all changed after World War II, when power-lusting politicians sold an all-too-willing-to-believe electorate a false and dangerous bill of goods, namely, that government is the source of prosperity. It is not, and never has been.

Whether that truth will become apparent before America goes the way of Greece is anyone’s guess. I am pessimistic because conscientiousness — which seemed to be on the rise with Gen X — is once again on the decline.

Related posts:
The Residue of Choice
The People’s Romance
The Causes of Economic Growth
A Short Course in Economics
Addendum to a Short Course in Economics
In the Long Run We Are All Poorer
Economic Growth since WWII
The Price of Government
The Commandeered Economy
The Price of Government Redux
The Mega-Depression
Presidential Chutzpah
As Goes Greece
The State of the Union: 2010
The Shape of Things to Come
The Real Burden of Government
Toward a Risk-Free Economy
The Rahn Curve at Work
The Illusion of Prosperity and Stability
Society and the State
I Want My Country Back
The “Forthcoming Financial Collapse”
Estimating the Rahn Curve: Or, How Government Inhibits Economic Growth
The Deficit Commission’s Deficit of Understanding
Undermining the Free Society
The Bowles-Simpson Report
The Bowles-Simpson Band-Aid
Government vs. Community
The Stagnation Thesis
Government Failure: An Example
The Evil That Is Done with Good Intentions
America’s Financial Crisis Is Now
PolitiFact Whiffs on Social Security
The Destruction of Society in the Name of “Society”
The Social Security Trust Fund Is Not a “Get out of Jail Free Card”
Say’s Law, Government, and Unemployment
“Occupy Wall Street” and Religion
Religion on the Left